By John Baggett
As the 70th season for Tyler Civic Theatre continues, the line up this year has let me see a lot of shows that I probably should have seen a long time ago. In this case, it allowed me to visit both a cinematic classic and the play that inspired it thanks to the latest production, “On Golden Pond.”
“On Golden Pond” is the story of the Thayer’s, Norman (Dan Trent) and Ethel (Lisa Ormandy), an aging couple who have been married over 40 years. The pair returns to Golden Pond in Maine every summer as they have for most of their married life. With Norman’s 80th birthday approaching, his preoccupation with his mortality is in full force, especially since he has been having heart palpitations and his memory is starting to fade. Still, he is able to fill his days harassing mailman Charlie (Austin Sandy) and driving Ethel crazy.
When their daughter, Chelsea (Kristina Suberbielle), writes that she is coming for a visit with her new boyfriend, Bill (Heath Huffstetter), Ethel hopes that for once they can all get along as a family. With Chelsea’s return, it brings back bad memories, but the beginning of new ones with Bill’s son, Billy (Jesse Stamper II). Ethel asks Norman to let Billy stay with them while Chelsea and Bill go to Europe, which is the best thing, not just for the boy, but for Ethel and Norman as well.
“On Golden Pond” was written by Ernest Thompson, who would later adapt his play into the script for the 1981 Oscar-winning film. (I actually watched the movie just days before opening night for the first time ever, and I’m really glad I did.) The Civic Theatre production is directed by DeAnna Hargrove, a veteran director and actress, whose previous show was the debut performance of Mike Hargrove’s “The Touch.” Hargrove assembled a wonderful cast that took this classic material and made it their own.
Trent and Ormandy have the task of taking characters once portrayed by the legendary Peter Fonda and Katherine Hepburn, and both of them exceeded expectations. Trent, who was previously in “Screwtape” and “The Odd Couple,” brings warmth and humor to a role I felt Fonda was a little cold in, but still manages to be the loveable curmudgeon as well. Ormandy is easily the biggest surprise in the show as this is her acting debut. For someone that hasn’t been on stage before, she was flawless, taking on a heavy role with the grace and ease of a stage veteran. I hope that she continues to appear in shows because she is truly gifted.
With our supporting cast, we have a fantastic group of actors. Hufstetter, who has been in many shows such as “Christmas Belles” and “Charlotte’s Web,” gives another great performance. Sandy, who was last seen in “Dial M For Murder” is fun to watch as Charlie, and you can’t help but smile along with him while he is on stage. In her Civic Theatre debut, Suberbielle is also great, returning to the stage for the first time in two decades, and I hope she continues to act. Finally, as Billy, Stamper is a delight to watch, with a natural talent that makes me hope he keeps it up. I also want to give a shout out to Joclyn Ewers, who is the voice of the operator and an understudy for Ormandy, and Paul LeBerton, who was an understudy for Stamper.
“On Golden Pond” is a delightful show, one that is funny and emotional. Every performance is great and it’s a show that, whether you’ve seen the movie a thousand times or not at all, you owe it to yourself to check out. Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Drive. For more information or to purchase tickets call 903-592-0561 or go to http://tylercivictheatre.com/production/2018-2019/on-golden-pond.