When the audience first meets the Thayers, Norman and Ethel, in the opening scene of ON GOLDEN POND, they are retreating to their summer home in Maine as they have for several decades. It seems appropriate, then, for PinnWorth Productions to present this show in the first days of summer, before the dog days, when the season still feels refreshing and the pace is slowing. ON GOLDEN POND eases its audience into the Kelsey Theatre summer season with this heartwarming show.
The set of the Thayers’ summer home is richly detailed and incredibly well-designed by Kate Pinner. Naturally knotted wood paneling is accented by photo collages, fishing hats hanging haphazardly on hooks near the door, and several bookshelves overflowing with books and knick-knacks. It’s this attention to detail that sets this production apart, and truly ignites the suspension of disbelief for the audience the minute they enter the theater. The costumes and makeup, as well, are perfectly fit to each actor and character considering the time period is vaguely described as “several years ago.” There was ambient music throughout the show, however, that was distracting and took away from the otherwise ideal setting.
In this particular summer in the eponymous Maine town, Norman (John Shanken-Kaye) and Ethel (Laurie Hardy) are planning for Norman’s 80th birthday and precious little else. However, their distant daughter Chelsea (Elizabeth Rzasa) has other plans, and brings her new boyfriend Bill (Rob Gougher) and his son Billy (Calvin Tobias) for a visit at the cabin that turns out to be life-altering. The themes of the passing of time, the inevitable process of aging, and the reconnecting of old familial bonds permeate the show, and this show is driven by its character development rather than by exciting happenings on the Pond.
Luckily for PinnWorth Players, the actors they cast as these characters are compelling and keep the audience’s attention through the sometimes incredibly slow pace of the show. John Shanken-Kaye as the ornery Norman inspires both pity and ire; he portrays the grumpy patriarch as lovingly as could be while still showing the audience why his daughter barely speaks to him. Laurie Hardy plays a great foil to Shanken-Kaye as Norman’s feisty wife Ethel, and her turn during a medical emergency in the second act was spot-on heartbreaking. Elizabeth Rzasa, as the Thayers’ daughter Chelsea, is both charming and irritable, although at times the switch between the two was too fast for the audience to follow. As for the men, Wayne Rossignol is warm and goofy as the mailman Charlie with his thick New England accent, and Rob Gougher brings a funny uptight air to the new beau Bill. And the lone young actor in the show, Calvin Tobias, turned Billy Ray into a perfect sarcastic teenage sparring partner for Norman.
Nostalgia certainly fills the air at ON GOLDEN POND, and the cast and crew make the stroll down the Thayers’ memory lane feel relatable for all summers with family and friends.
ON GOLDEN POND
by Ernest Thompson
Directed by LouJ Stalworth
June 14-23, 2013
Kelsey Theatre at Mercer County Community College
1200 Old Trenton Road
West Windsor, NJ 08550