Friday evening found Mrs K and I at the Epilogue Players’ theatre, by special invitation, for a production of Ernest Thompson’s wonderful play – On Golden Pond. The show is directed by The Belfry theatre’s frequent director, Elaine Wagner, in her Epilogue Players debut.
On Golden Pond is another of those plays that I have a rather large affinity for. First of all, it is an amazing script, being filled with the rare combination of good humor and a quiet sweetness. The centerpiece relationship between the elderly couple, Ethel and Norman Thayer, is brimming with love, understanding, divergence, patience, and even hopefulness. Secondly, I directed the play at Westfield’s Main Street Theatre in 1998 and have therefore studied it and hold more than a few preconceived notions about it.
The latter factor can often make it a bit difficult to watch another director’s interpretations of a play. As always, decisions are made about characters and action that may differ from someone else’s impressions. I really do try to sweep those things aside as best I can – but, there is no denying that they can color a person’s perception of what is onstage in front of them.
For example, Ms. Wagner announced at the curtain speech that the company had concentrated on the humor of the piece and so we should feel free to laugh. Frankly, her statement sent a bit of an “ah-oh” through my brain – the script I remembered was rife with humor and one really did not have to push on it very hard for it to be funny. But I held back my thoughts as the play began.
The set for this play was very well conceived, I thought – with the pre-show open curtain, we got to inspect it as we sat and it certainly was well-done, with a very rustic quality to it. Pre-show music from what seemed to be an environmental DVD nicely set the mood.
As Norman, Steve Demuth is a very good choice. His stage experience shows as he presents Norman’s propensity for dark and/or intelligent humor. His early scene testing the phone, one-sided in the original script, becomes more comical with the addition of Susan Townsend as the Telephone Operator, presented off to the side (indeed, all the one-sided phone conversations in the script are presented with both participants being seen and heard – a revelation I enjoyed as we had a better chance to realize the humors and emotions there).
When Ethel appears, we are treated to a very solid portrayal by Demuth’s real-life wife, Serita Borgeas – whom we last saw as Carrie Watts in a fine production of Trip to Bountiful. Ms. Borgeas has Ethel totally figured out and easily shows us her range of sweetness and exasperation at life with Norman with a truthful steady conveyance. My favorite moment is her just-right handling of poor Norman’s confusion about where the old town road is – as it has been lost in his memory. It is truly touching, as are several other sweet moments between the couple.
The next character to appear is the light-hearted and headed mailman Charlie Martin, played here with a certain fervor by Kevin Shadle. Then follows: Kelli Conkin, giddy as the Thayer’s daughter Chelsea, Cormac Doebbling in the role of the teenager Billy Ray, and Jack Razumich as Chelsea’s anxious suitor, “the dentist” – Bill Ray. This skillful supporting cast moves the story along nicely, without too many languishing moments, providing the necessary quirks and the humorous content without too many hard pushes against the script’s built-in tempos. (I should point out that young Mr. Doebbling is the third member of his remarkable stage family that I have seen onstage now – following his talented mother and sister, Caroline and Bronwyn; also it should be noted that Razumich and Ms. Conkin are reunited with Ms. Borgeas, having taken the other two major roles in Trip to Bountiful.)
All in all, it was a pleasing and entertaining evening at Epilogue. My fears about the cast “trying too hard” at the humor were mostly unfounded, and the delightfulness of the play came through quite nicely. This is only the second weekend of a three weekend run, so there is plenty of time to make an effort to visit with Ethel and Norman. Subsequent show dates are July 19, 20, 25, 26 and 27 – with Fri/Sat shows beginning at 7:30 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Reservations are encouraged by calling 317-926-3139 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .
* Photos are from the Epilogue Players Facebook page