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July 24, 2007 > Theater - On Golden Pond at Broadway West

Theater - On Golden Pond at Broadway West

By Vidya Pradhan

Fremont's own little cultural gem, Broadway West, brings us 'On Golden Pond', the award winning play by Ernest Thompson.

Set in a cottage on the shores of a lake in Maine, On Golden Pond is the story of Norman Thayer Jr, a curmudgeonly English professor, and his wife Ethel. Bickering affectionately, the two spend yet another summer at their beloved home by the water, knowing full well that this could be their last summer together on Golden Pond. Norman is turning 80 and is being an old 'poop' about it. Never an easy man to live with, Norman is trying to come to terms with his mortality in his own irascible way, trying the patience of the people around him.

During the summer, the couple receives an unexpected visit from their daughter Chelsea, who is estranged from her father. Chelsea brings her fiancˇ Bill and his 13 year old son Billy along and persuades her mother to keep Billy for a month while she and Bill vacation in Europe.

Norman and Billy form an unlikely bond as they fish together on the lake and this bond helps Norman to mend the relationship he has with his daughter and accept his mortality. The loons on the lake, bringing up their young, provide a counterpoint to the old couple who have but a few chances left to reach out to their own child.

The play has a simple story but is elevated by a terrific screenplay, full of wit and humor. Exchanges between Norman and Ethel are prickly but tender. The characters are wonderfully familiar and could be a part of any family. Fears that all of us face of ageing and perhaps losing our faculties makes this play poignant and sentimental.

Broadway West's intimate setting is perfect for this family drama. The audience feels that it is almost part of the play, just another member of the Thayer family watching the elders play out their roles at the end of their lives.

Henry Fonda immortalized the role of Norman Thayer in the film version of the play. Nearing the end of his own life, he brought a personal dimension to his performance, giving it weight and substance. Tom Ammon plays Norman more archly, making him more of a lovable old coot, which makes the confrontational scenes with his daughter rather inexplicable. You see his charm but not his irascibility, so when he talks about dying, it feels more like a witty one-liner than any real worry.

The star of this production is undoubtedly Lillian Bogovich, who gives an unaffected and natural performance as Ethel, Norman's long-suffering but loving wife. Her lines are not as zingy, but she infuses them with the depth that is needed to understand both Norman's personality and Ethel's love for him despite his difficult nature. In a scene where Norman confesses his fear of his approaching dementia, the play of emotions on her face from worry to concern to love makes the moment memorable.

Scenes between father and daughter seemed curtailed so one is never clear why they dislike each other so much and the rapprochement happens much too fast to be convincing. Possibly the adapted screenplay for the movie, which won an Oscar, took care to elaborate on the relationship to make the conflict more believable.

The supporting cast members had a slight case of opening night jitters and are sure to ease into their roles in subsequent performances.

Broadway West does a commendable job of bringing the venerable Broadway production to a smaller venue. You'll laugh, you'll cry. What more can you ask for in a play?

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