On Golden Pond: pitch perfect production

Returning to their Maine cottage on Golden Pond for their 48th summer, Norman Thayer Jr. (played by Pat Larkin) and his wife Ethel (Colleen Simm), step into a pool of memories. The well-appointed set at the Mount Tabor Theatre represents a single room, stocked with well-worn board games, well-read books, and faded photographs.

The couple seems as well-worn in as the board games, but not quite as readable as the books. They know one another’s habits from half a century of life together, but do they know one another?

Vain, self-centred, and demanding, the formidable Norman, an English professor, enjoys wit and passes judgment — generally both at once — as a matter of habit. Ethel, a decade younger than Norman’s 80 years, is a frustrated but warm and loving companion who ends up doing a lot of the heavy lifting.

Norman spends considerable time literally gazing into the mirror, a habit that reflects his ironic view of the world — and his detachment from others. His sense of things is not common, nor does it always make sense. Signs of elderly forgetfulness reveal themselves, and a new restlessness indicates that he is searching for something. His wit fuels the play with many comic moments; one-liners are delivered by Mr. Larkin in the laconic manner of Jimmy Stewart. The slightly dim-witted but genuine Charlie the mailman (Tom Higginbottom) comes for coffee and offers comic fodder. The single set with multiple doors also allows for farcical entries and exits — generally people missing each other.

Haimish Hunter as Billy. (Karen Valihora/Gazette Staff)

The play is more than a comedy, though. It attends to the fact that its characters talk more than they listen. On occasion, the aging Norman must stop to acknowledge his cracking façade. Director Cheryl Singer has paced the dialogue to create sudden silences, allowing recognition, leading to reconciliation.

The arrival of Ethel and Norman’s estranged daughter, Chelsea (Liz Simpson), reveals the tensions the arrogant Norman has fostered and Ethel ignored. Ms. Simpson does a good job with Chelsea, erring on the side of understatement while making her discomfort palpable.

Chelsea brings a new boyfriend, Bill (Adam McGowan), and his thirteen-year-old son, Billy (Haimish Hunter). Her trepidation about introducing them are pronounced, and justified. Norman proceeds to torment Bill, but draws an unexpected response.

Bill and Chelsea leave Billy behind for the summer, and a relationship develops between the old man and the boy which restores something lost. Restoration and recognition are the themes here. Subtle as they are, they are beautifully wrought by PECT’s accomplished group of actors.

Mr. Larkin and Ms. Simm in the leading roles carry the play; both are  on stage from start to finish. Each establishes character by means of gesture, accent and gait, but also manage to convey something ineffable together, a sense of endurance. When more characters are on stage, body language and blocking become a shorthand signifier of emotional dynamics. Each character has their moment, but is subordinate to the relationship between Norman and Ethel. The younger generations present a reality principle that the older couple both acknowledge — and defy.

It all makes for a production both funny and moving. Haimish Hunter is memorable as Billy, the 13-year-old who teaches this would-be grandfather some new words.

On Golden Pond continues Friday through Sunday. Visit facebook.com/pecommtheatre for more information.



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