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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
On Golden Pond
No small amount of credit goes to 80-year-old Hal Linden in the central role of cantankerous articulate 79-year-old Norman Thayer. Thayer is in the early stages of memory loss but Linden's forceful charm makes clear why his favorite word for himself is "fascinating."
Bravely playing his wife Ethel is lovely Christina Pickles who feels that closing hand as surely as Norman. She's assertive and splendid. One point playwright Thompson never misses is the couple's lasting love for each other. Forty-eight years of marriage haven't dimmed what is less a spark than a quarrelsome glow. "Oh, thank God, I love you so much!" Christina cries when Norman stubbornly rallies from a collapse. "Want to dance? Or would you rather just suck face?" he teases towards the end, aping young Billy's slang.
Less idyllic is Norman's relationship with their 42-year-old daughter Chelsea (Monette Magrath). Always leery of her father, Chelsea manages to make peace in a thinly-written scene in the second act. Nevertheless, she has a lot of her father's articulate sarcasm and Thompson gives her some zingers.
Norman is on better terms with her boyfriend's son, 13-year-old Billy (Nicholas Podany) who, after a monrh's stay, has taken to big books and morning fishing. His father Bill (Jonathan Stewart), who Chelsea married because she felt sorry for him, has one fierce scene with Norman in which he stands up for himself. However, he's the sort of man who's ultimately boring and Chelsea's beginning to know it. Maybe Billy will make up for it.
A character who nods in for no discernible reason except a few laughs is Charley, the postman (Jerry Kernion). His own laugh, sly and booming, is a signature and the thing that will be memorable about him.
The set design by John Iacovelli with property design and set dressing by MacAndME is as warm and enveloping as everyone's nostalgic memory of home which may be why this creaky play, despite its flaws, has survived. Thompson's caustic ear for humor and the compassionate courage he gives his characters are a testimonial for all the aging Norman Thayers out there.