ON GOLDEN POND is a sweet play about growing old. There’s nothing flashy about it. There’s a little bit of drama, just a second or two of heightened emotions, and a plot that trucks along slowly. Like the sleepy town in Maine where it’s set, the play is relaxation-on-stage. Under the guidance of director Richard Hess, this incredible cast moseys through the script. No one’s in a hurry. No one needs to be flashy. They let the characters tell the story. It’s just . . . nice.
Joneal Joplin plays the role made famous by Henry Fonda in the 1981 film version. His “Norman” is gruff and wickedly sly. “Ethel,” his wife, is played by Dale Hodges with elegance and grace yet enough earthiness to differentiate her from Katherine Hepburn’s movie version. In an ironic twist, Jennifer Joplin plays “Chelsea,” their daughter. She’s the real life daughter of Joneal. And when they share the stage, there are long, knowing stares. The transfer of energy between them happens wordlessly; its some of the most fascinating theatre I’ve witnessed, as brief as those moments are. The cast is rounded out by Charlie Clark as the mailman, Ken Early as “Bill,” Chelsea’s new love interest, and Kale Barlow is “Billy.”
The gorgeous lake-home set, designed by Mark Halpin, is one of the best I’ve seen on the Loft Theatre stage. Full of details and subtlety, it looks like a place I could go and spend a summer reading and writing. It’s impressive. Jay Brunner’s sound design keeps a consistent tone between scene changes, with light piano music. John Rensel’s lights accentuate the play, while Kathie Brookfield’s costumes feel modern, especially as the 15-year-old Billie brings in a sense of newness to Norman’s static routine.
ON GOLDEN POND is a pleasant two and a half hours. While not super-challening thematically, it is appealing as it explores the issues that come with aging. And that is a pretty universal theme, whether we want to admit it or not.
ON GOLDEN POND runs through April 23rd at the Loft Theatre in downtown Dayton. Tickets and more information can be found here.