Layman, Fiske Capture Family Dynamics In Monday's 'On Golden Pond'

By: Joan Aucoin

Ellen Fiske and Terry Layman in “On Golden Pond” at Monomoy Theatre. JESUS LOPEZ PHOTO

 

Monomoy Theater's "On Golden Pond" tackles head-on the hopes, fears, and future of Norman Thayer, a retired English professor on his approaching octogenarian birthday.

Terry Layman, veteran of more than 20 Monomoy seasons, perfectly becomes the cantankerous curmudgeon spending one more summer with wife Ethel, played by his real wife, actress Ellen Fiske, at their Maine summer camp. Layman and Fiske are well paired both on and off the stage. Witnessing their professional and personal chemistry onstage makes this a must-see production. Ricky Oliver, making his Monomoy directorial debut, has chosen a superb cast, and Ernest Thompson's 1979 favorite continues to bring reflections, renewal, and humor to the family structure.

Norman and Ethel have summered on Golden Pond for 48 years, but this summer is different. Norman's memory is slipping. His physical strength has lessened. His negative attitude is spiraling their dreams into a dark abyss. Chelsea, their 42-year-old daughter, has never married and rarely returns home from California. Time is running out for this family to ever say the words "I love you" and mean it. When Norman and Chelsea are together, their edgy pointed conversation seems in attack mode. Isn't it about time they become friends? Meanwhile, Ethel busies herself with daily chores with extreme competence.

And then one summer day in June, Chelsea (Martha Berthelsen) writes she will join her parents on Golden Pond with her fiance Bill (Nicholas Dana Reynolds), a successful dentist, and his 13-year-old son Billy Jr. (Jarrett Strzepek). The trio are on their way to Brussels on holiday. Ethel suggests the teen stay with them, freeing Chelsea to seek happiness alone with Bill, paving the pathway for family healing after she convinces Norman all will be right with the world. Time to teach someone much younger how to fish and read great literature.

By September, Norman learns through the eyes of a teen to age gracefully with "childlike optimism" refusing to act old. With fishing pole and book in hand, he looks forward to next year's summer camp.

Mary Berthelsen's forceful performance of up-town girl Chelsea is sparkling in every scene she appears. With the pond's mailman Charlie (Daniel Owens) who delivers by boat, the middle-aged pair remember their teen dreams in friendship. Owens is a very likable up-beat guy in every scene he appears. Berthesen's mad at her dad lines swing in full revolutionary tenor like a spoiled adolescent brat. My favorite Chelsea scene is with her mom singing a buoyant "camp girls” song like a pair of sorority sisters. Fiske's Ethel charms all in full motherhood mode.

Nicholas Dana Ryland's Bill Ray takes Norman's numerous dentist jokes and jabs. Norman and Bill's discussion on sleeping accommodations and morality becomes a mind game between two brilliant professionals.

Recent Monomoy Regional Middle School grad Strzepek plays Billy Jr., the Los Angeles kid with a bit of a mouth who becomes the bait can holder, avid book reader, loon listener, and able bodied pal to an elder gent on the cusp of sinking in defeat to his years. Jarrett is a terrific and seasoned performer in local community theater keeping step with Monomoy's professional guest star Layman.

"On Golden Pond" is a win-win for every generation making a perfect night out for tourists, seasonal residents, and those seniors welcoming home adult children and their families.