As David Jepson relates in the program for Granite Theater’s current production of On Golden Pond, the show is close to his heart because it was in a production of this very show 29 years ago that he met his future (and still) wife and collaborator Beth Jepson.
At the time, David played Norman Thayer, a lovable curmudgeon of an old-timer who takes solace at his “Golden Pond” Maine seasonal vacation cottage, and Beth played his somewhat estranged daughter Chelsea. The complicated history and relationship between Norman and Chelsea is at the core of On Golden Pond, as those familiar with the popular film version (starring Henry Fonda and daughter Jane Fonda as the father-daughter combo and Kathryn Hepburn as Norma) will recall.
Some 20 years later, in another production of On Golden Pond, Beth took on the role of Norman’s loyal and pragmatic wife Ethel opposite David once again as Norman. Now, in their second to last show as artistic director and associate artistic director, respectively, the Jepsons leave Westerly with a worthy send-off and celebration of their respective talents.
Meanwhile, back on the pond, Michelle Mania is the perfect choice as daughter Chelsea, a woman in her early forties, who has lived in the shadow of her larger-than-life, never-fully-approving father. It’s alluded that Norman even squashed the romantic intentions of their friendly mailman Charlie Martin (played by Michael Chiaradio), after Charlie romanced Chelsea for several years worth of family vacations at the pond. Chelsea never felt fully comfortable as Norman’s daughter, relating that she had to apologize to the very worms she slaughtered on the many fishing trips she was dragged along on.
There’s probably more to the divide between father and daughter that’s fully spoken of and it’s left to the viewer’s imagination and own personal history as a parent and/or child to fill in the gaps as to why this relationship is bent, if not fully broken.
On her relatively unexpected last-minute visit to see her parents (whom she calls ‘Mommy’ and ‘Norman’) , Chelsea surprises them with a young teenage boy in tow, Billy Ray, (played by Granite newcomer Patrick Conaway), who is the son of Chelsea’s latest suitor, Dentist Bill Ray (played by Jude Pescatello).
Chelsea hits up ‘mommy’ for a favor; will her parents take in Billy Ray for the rest of the summer while she and the elder Bill Ray have their own romantic journey in Europe. The Thayers agree, and this gives Norman a second chance to be the lovable dad to Billy Ray that he never was to Chelsea.
For his part, Billy Ray is a smart alec of a kid, but his quick wit is actually appreciated and fostered by Norman, and the two quickly become wise-cracking fishing buddies.
After a month, when Chelsea returns to the pond from Europe, she and Bill Ray have yet another surprise to announce.
The two-act play moves along quite well and has a strong sense of sentiment without being too sticky-sweet. The Jepsons play their respective roles very well, in more subtle performances than one might remember the boisterous takes that Henry Fonda and Kathryn Hepburn delivered in the film.
Overall, a strong showing and a fitting farewell for the Jepsons, who are off to Florida, where one hopes they will share their talents with their new neighbors in the Sunshine State.
Also, always looking out for the theater until the final bow, David asked me to spread the word that Granite’s next show Man of La Mancha is in need of about six male character Actors, and anyone interested should inquire immediately! A great opportunity perhaps for those new to theater to get a great experience or those eager for one last sitting under the Jepson learning tree.
click here for Granite Theatre Box Office – On Golden Pond will continue through August 25.