Is it possible for a movie or a play to make you nostalgic for a time that never was? At least, not a time in your life?
Well, that’s exactly what Midtown Production’s version of On Golden Pond did for me. I’m suddenly nostalgic for summers in Maine, and since my own memories of a singular trip to Maine when I was three years old are sketchy at best, I’ll just have to go ahead and allow: On Golden Pond was good enough to make me want to remember something that never existed. At least not for me.
Directed by Jo Ellen Aspinwall and starring some of Charleston’s most notable actors, the tiny cast on the tiny studio stage told a quiet story with a big heart. For those who, like me, have managed to never see the movie starring Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn, here’s the basic rundown: Ethel and Norman Thayer (Samille Basler and Nat Jones, respectively) return to their summer house on the banks of Golden Pond in their twilight years. She is 69, and he is turning 80. Norman, especially, is tired. He barely humors his wife’s delight in the loons who nest outside their cabin. He talks constantly of his own death.
But then, through a sudden visit from their daughter, her boyfriend, and soon-to-be stepson, the couple is rejuvenated, revitalized, and they re-discover their love for one another. Watching their transformation is beautiful.
Honestly, there was next to nothing about this production that wasn’t beautiful. The New England cottage living room was cozy and well-designed. You could almost imagine walking up on stage to drink coffee with the cast, stopping to stroll past the numerous family portraits lining the mantle.
The action of the play was quiet – it’s a family drama, really. Nothing more, nothing less. The climax occurred when Ethel and her daughter, Chelsea, had a real debate for the first time in years, and even that was…quiet. Understated. That’s the feel of the whole play.
As Norman, Nat Jones was a perfect combination of prickly and snarky, while still maintaining a modicum of charm. He’s the type of man you’d love to have a drink with, even if he’s mocking you the entire time. Because the mocking would make you laugh.
Samille Basler as his wife was sweet, almost naïve at times, but still strong enough to withstand family tempests. As a couple, their chemistry is divine. When she calls him “you old poop,” you can’t help but smile. That’s the kind of couple they are.
The supporting cast is charming, too. Sarah Wallis Craven (Chelsea) is sweet if defiant, and Andrew Macchia as Billy Jr. oozes the exact sort of 13-year-old awkwardness you’d hope for in a 13-year-old, awkward character.
This is a good play with a solid, professional cast. Though it’s quiet, there are moments of delightful, toe-curling discomfort. Imagine a forty-something dentist talking about sex with his girlfriend’s eighty-something father, or the uncomfortable silence of a reunion between an ex-boyfriend and a girlfriend who’s just gotten married. This is where the cast’s chemistry is at its best, and this is where On Golden Pond is truly golden.
These days, with so much wild and crazy media thrust upon us at all times, it’s nice to sit down and be a fly on a wall to a couple’s rejuvination. And to be able to laugh while you do it — well, that’s just a bonus.