After a brief hiatus from the theatre scene, it was great to finally get back into the run of things last weekend. When your life is a bit of a rollercoaster, it is both a joy and a release to escape into the world of fictitious live performance.
Friday evening approached and so did the long awaited opening night of On Golden Pond, performed by the Scarborough Players at Scarborough Village Theatre. As always, a buzz of excitement could be felt as the show attendees gathered in the theatre’s foyer.
For those, like myself, who were unfamiliar with this play, it was very interesting to finally find out what the whole story-line was about, and in the process, come to realize how popular it has been since its initial release. What with its debut onto Broadway in 1979, a 1981 movie adaption starring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn & Jane Fonda, and a 20th Anniversary Live TV remake in 2001 starring Sound of Music power couple, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, I was eager to learn of the backstory to the show.
On Golden Pond, written by Ernest Thompson, is a play that centres around an elderly couple; Norman & Ethel Thayer. Each summer over the past 48 years of marriage, they have come to their holiday home in Maine beside a lake known as Golden Pond. Each year is the same: Ethel keeps herself busy exploring the wooded areas; picking wild berries and watching the birds on the lake, whilst Norman reads his books in the study; not making much effort to socialize. To make things even more challenging for his wife, Norman is not only a stubborn man, but a pessimistic one too. To Norman, each year at Golden Pond will be his last, and despite this poor attitude, his wife Ethel remains positive. But, in truth, she has to. Norman is already showing signs of memory loss and is already becoming unfamiliar with his surroundings, so her optimism is not only therapeutic but necessary for her husband.
But this summer is different. It’s Norman’s 80th Birthday and their daughter Chelsea is coming to visit them at the lakeside home. When she does, she brings her significant other, Billy Ray, along for the ride. Accompanying them is Billy Ray’s 13 year old son, Billy Ray Jnr.
From here, the story begins. Ethel asks Chelsea and Billy Ray if their son can stay with them for the rest of the summer, as they travel across Europe. Billy Ray Snr is delighted, but Chelsea remains reluctant, but eventually agrees. Chelsea had always a tricky relationship with her father growing up, and trying to imagine her stepson having an enjoyable time with her parents, is somewhat unimaginable.
The rest of the summer proves to be the most enjoyable the Thayers have ever had, as the young boy brings so much energy to their quiet lives and awakens the hibernating household. Along with this he awakens the inner child in Norman and brings him out of his reclusive shell with every day they spend together.
But On Golden Pond is not all sunshine and buttercups. Although it acknowledges the happiness a child can bring to a family, it also examines the mistakes parents can be responsible for with their own kids, and ultimately how important it is for those to admit their faults and move on as one unit.
So now that you have the background to the story, without too many spoilers (I hope)…how did the Scarborough Players do with this classic?
Although the play was slow to begin, it quickly picked up its pace, once the Thayers had properly introduced themselves.
Chris Hardess played our lead Norman Thayer, and did so with both heart and character. He kept loyal to the original character description, by portraying his stubborn, pessimistic side very well. We all have a NORMAN in our lives…that one family member or friend…male or female…who is constantly complaining about something or someone, and has the most dismal outlook on life. But we love them regardless. Although Norman’s strong-willed attitude was over the top at times, it was a joy to see how Chris was able to believably become a new man, once the child arrived at the house.
Kathrine Tomlinson was a breath if fresh air to watch, as lovable wife Ethel Thayer. She brought warmth, emotion and genuine relatability to her character. She successfully portrayed the hard work that goes into being a wife and mother, by allowing the audience to see what we all know to be true….that you have to remain positive for the sake of your family, that have to encourage those you love to be the best they can be, and most of all; as a wife and mother, that one cannot take sides. All in all, Kathrine definitely was a highlight within the show.
Kerrie Lamb played daughter, Chelsea. Although we only get to see her for small scenes, I enjoyed watching her performance. She depicted very much what a lot of kids go through. When you grow up in a family where a parent does not take the time to know their child, or take an interest in their lives, it can be heart-breaking. It can be even harder, in this case, when she brings her new stepson to visit her parents, only to watch her father give the attention she always hoped for, to someone else. Kerrie was very convincing as Chelsea, as she effectively showed the audience how pain can travel with you, regardless of time passed.
Greg Nowlan played Billy Ray, bringing a fun, uplifting and warm personality to his performance. Like the part of Chelsea, we only see Billy Ray for small scenes, but in those, Greg depicted the strong, protective and caring nature of his character very well.
But the two stars of the show, who really stood out for me, were Will van der Zyl, who played Chelsea’s childhood sweetheart/mail man, Charlie Martin, and of course, Fraser Schaffer who played the child lead, Billy Ray Jnr. Both of these actors brought something different to the table. Will had the crowd laughing in every scene, as he delivered some very funny one-liners and the fact that his character was so innocent in his thoughts and actions, it made their delivery more effective.
However, young Fraser gave us all a delightful performance as the 13 year old Billy Ray Jnr. For such a young actor, it was refreshing to see how comfortable he was on stage in front of a big crowd. He depicted the impressionable nature of this child, as his character spent time with 80 year old Norman. His portrayal of this relationship was so easy to watch, as I loved seeing two generations coming together and teaching each other something they were unfamiliar with.
All in all, the performance was both enjoyable and endearing. It successfully gets across a message surrounding 3 things. Firstly, life is for living and be happy you get to do so. Secondly, people aren’t perfect, and we are all guilty of not being the best version of ourselves at times. And lastly, there are always second chances if we just open our hearts to giving and receiving the necessary forgiveness.
ON GOLDEN POND will be on stage on September 14th, 15th, 16th & 17th, as well as September 21st, 22nd & 23rd, at Scarborough Village Theatre, located at 3600 Kingston Road, Scarborough.
Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office in person, or can be purchased in advance online, by clicking HERE.
Just like our main characters Norman & Ethel, make sure you take a trip to Golden Pond also, before the summer is officially over.
*Production photos courtesy of Thomas Kowal*