Tuesday, December 5, 2017

On Golden Pond at Olympia Little Theatre

 by Alec Clayton
Meigie Mabry and John Pratt as Ethel and Norman Thayer, photo by Austin Lang
On Golden Pond, written by Ernest Thompson and directed by Kendra Malm for Olympia Little Theatre, is a sweet, touching, funny story about aging, about facing death, about family strife and perhaps most of all about a crotchety and wisecracking old man learning perhaps in the nick of time — how to express his love for his wife and daughter.
It is not a Christmas play; in fact, it is set in the summer. And this reviewer for one is glad they decided not to do a Christmas play this holiday season. Jews, Muslims, and people who practice religions other than Christianity and atheists who are part of our community are bombarded with a slew of Christian-related entertainment every year at this time, and I applaud OLT’s decision to present a warm and tender show about the love of family with no manger scenes and no Santa Claus.
Oliver Garcia as Billy Ray and John Pratt as Norman, photo by Austin Lang
Veteran actor John Pratt plays Norman Thayer, the crusty old man at the heart of the play. I had the pleasure of interviewing Pratt and Malm, along with Christian Carvajal, for the OLY ARTS “Sound Stages” podcast, and he told us he was 79 years old. Norman is 79 when the play opens and celebrates his 80th birthday during act one. Pratt told us of many other ways in which he is like Norman. Even if he were not an outstanding actor, which he is, he would be the ideal person to play Norman, and that is evident from the moment he walks onto the set, a beautifully built rustic cottage designed for OLT by Christopher Valcho. Pratt becomes Norman, just as Valcho’s set becomes their old cabin on Golden Pond, a cabin that shows with excellent detail in the marks of 48 years of the Thayer family living out their summers there.
Norman believes it is going to be his last summer in the lake cabin. He has heart palpitations and is convince he will not live out the summer. At least that’s what he tells his wife, Ethel (Meigie Mabry) —over and over and over. But Ethel puts little stock in his dire predictions of impending death because he’s been saying he’s going to die soon for decades. Norman puts everybody on with brilliantly barbed humor that borders on vicious, and Ethel knows he doesn’t mean a word of it. His crustiness is a cover for his inability to express sensitive feelings.
Their daughter Chelsea (Lorana Hoopes) stops by the cabin for a short visit with her boyfriend, Bill Ray (Garrett Shelton) and Ray’s 13-year-old son, Billy Ray (Oliver Garcia). Chelsea and Norman clash as they have done all her life. She says they’ve always been mad at each other, and Norman retorts, “I didn't think we were mad; I just thought we didn't like each other.”
When Chelsea and Bill leave Billy Ray with her parents for the summer, Norman bonds with Billy Ray and has, for a short time, the kind of relationship Chelsea wishes she could have had with her father when she was growing up. Fishing with Billy Ray and introducing him to his favorite books (he is a retired English professor), rejuvenates Norman.
Except for Pratt, all the cast members are relatively new to OLT. Mabry was seen in OLT’s recent production of All the Kings’ Woman, and Garcia played the young Galileo in Starry Messenger. None have extensive acting experience, but you’d never suspect it from their thoroughly professional acting in this play. They portray their characters as down-to-earth, flawed but likeable people. Dean Phillips who plays Charlie the mailman is a charming frequent visitor to the cabin on the lake.
Note: The play was written in the 1970s and set in that time period. By today’s standards, some of Norman’s witticisms are politically incorrect, if not downright offensive, but as directed by Malm and acted by Pratt, it is clear to the audience that he doesn’t really mean those things but is just trying to get a rise out of Ethel — which never really works.

On Golden Pond7:25 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 17 Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE,Olympia, 360.786.9484, http://olympialittletheater.org/$11-$15, $2 student discount, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr.

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