It’s hard not to reminisce about Henry and Jane Fonda when one thinks of “On Golden Pond,” which opened on January 10 with Quogue’s Hampton Theatre Company. But the truth is the original play, penned by Ernest Thompson at only 28, is about more than the dysfunctional father/daughter relationship which became the focus of the film for obvious reasons. It’s about family, fishing, unconditional love, and the incivility of growing old.
Norman (George Loizides) and Ethel Thayer (Diana Marbury) have returned for the 48th year, like the loons on the lake, to their seasonal cabin on Golden Pond in Maine. Norman is about to celebrate his 80th birthday; he is curmudgeonly, morbid, and depressed, staying inside to read the Help Wanted ads while Ethel buzzes around, chattering, picking berries, and enjoying the natural beauty and memories the area invokes.
The arrival of their only child, Chelsea (Jane Cortney), with her fiancé (Wally Marzano-Lesnevich) and his wisecracking 13-year-old son (Ian Hubbard), throws a cog in the works, but it’s a cathartic moment for Chelsea and Norman, and young Billy — who willingly reads the classic novels Norman suggests, what kid does that? — seems to awaken the older man’s lust for life again. Throw in Charlie (Paul Bolger), the local mailman and Chelsea’s first boyfriend, and you have a slice of Americana, complete with long-held familial resentments and the tyranny of everyday life for those whose minds and bodies are beginning to betray them.
Andrew Botsford ably directs the ensemble, with the team of Sean Marbury, Sebastian Paczynski, Seamus Naughton, and Teresa LaBrun providing the sets, lighting, sound, and costumes. It seems there was a missed opportunity to show the changing of the seasons with a branch that hangs outside a window upstage (it’s evergreen, but it could have been maple, with blossoms in the first scene, green leaves in the second . . . you get the picture) but it’s a minor quibble.
Marbury and Bolger bring bright eddies of laughter throughout the play, which runs about two and a half hours, but feels much shorter. Norman’s relationship with young Billy is heartwarming, his moment of forgetfulness and fear is touching. When Norman suffers an episode toward the end of the show, Ethel’s ineptitude, panic, and love is poignant and affecting.
“On Golden Pond” poses no big “a-ha” moments, no skeletons in the closet, no huge denouements. Instead, it offers up something closer to real life — how to love, how to accept, and how to go on, no matter what. As always, Hampton Theatre Company gives its audience a snappy and professional production sure to please the patrons.
“On Golden Pond” runs through January 27 at Quogue Community Hall. For information and tickets, visit www.hamptontheatre.org.