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Indiana Repertory Theatre closes it’s 2014-15 season with Ernest Thompson’s timeless On Golden Pond on the OneAmerica Main Stage. Since opening on Broadway in 1979, the play has stayed relevant and noteworthy in it’s exploration of aging, family relationships and the importance of places in our lives. IRT’s production infuses all those factors into an offering that is scenically beautiful and strikingly original.

It is very rare that I have seen any play 5 or 6 times, but On Golden Pond is that play. I love it’s tenderness and witty snaps of humor. The play has always seemed to portray things that we all wish for – a long, loving relationship, a beautiful rustic summerplace of relaxation and renewal, even a long life. Surely, my frequent exposure to the work (including my having directed a local production in 1998) has left no surprises in the storyline for me. The pleasure has most often come from watching actors’ portrayals, set designs, and perhaps a nuanced moment here and there. But director Janet Allen’s offering is nothing short of inventive.

Ethel (Darrie Lawrence) and her husband Norman (Robert Elliott) in IRT's "On Golden Pond"

Ethel (Darrie Lawrence) and her husband Norman (Robert Elliott) in IRT’s “On Golden Pond”

Norman and Ethel Thayer, the two elderly main characters, are portrayed here by veteran actors Robert Elliott and Darrie Lawrence. Ms. Lawrence delivers a masterful performance as the steady and sweet Mrs. Thayer, showing the character’s exasperation, as well as her deep love for Norman, with a seemingly effortless aplomb. Elliott’s depiction of Norman is one I have never seen the likes of. Rather than the slow, ironic curmudgeon, he gives us a lively, more energetic man – whose frailties are more in his regressing mind than in his physicality. This Norman’s humor is pointed and his movements are old school nonsense – he is a fun-loving character, who can still “bring it”. He has aches and pains  – and a heart condition – to be sure. But this very original Norman is a 21st century 80 year old, aging but less aged.

Charlie (Charlie Clark), Chelsea (Constance Macy) and Ethel (Darrie Lawrence) enjoy reminiscing in IRT's "On Golden Pond"

Charlie (Charlie Clark), Chelsea (Constance Macy) and Ethel (Darrie Lawrence) enjoy reminiscing in IRT’s “On Golden Pond”

Likewise, Constance Macy’s portrayal of Chelsea, Ethel and Norman’s somewhat estranged daughter, has an freshness to it. Ms. Macy gives a more raw quality to the off-putting situation Chelsea faces – her struggle with Norman. It seems to be a more overwhelming factor in this performance and her anguish is not hidden or restrained. And it works.

Bill Ray Jr. (Griffin Grider) and Bill Ray (Ryan Artzberger) share a moment in IRT's "On Golden Pond"

Bill Ray Jr. (Griffin Grider) and Bill Ray (Ryan Artzberger) share a moment in IRT’s “On Golden Pond”

The smaller roles are well covered by Charlie Clark as mailman Charlie Martin, Ryan Artzberger as Chelsea’s beau Bill Ray, and young Griffin Grider as Bill Ray Jr. Clark has great fun with Charlie – he has established a good balance of funny and sympathetic qualities in his portrayal, which includes a lot of fine comedic moments I have not seen before. Artzberger makes the most of his short time on stage with a well-crafted performance of the uncomfortable Bill Ray. And Griffin Grider does good work as Bill Ray Jr. – a bit less feisty than I have seen in the past, but solid and confident as the young visitor.

All this takes place on Robert M. Koharchik’s wonderfully evocative set, which features a wrap-around view of Golden Pond seen through his imaginative cabin structure. Linda Pisano’s costumes add a comfortable touch, and Betsy Cooprider-Bernstein’s lighting design offers sun and storms with equal effect. Of special note is Richard K. Thomas’ sound design. Using a Carrie Newcomer soundtrack adds many degrees of emotion, and the finishing touches of nature sounds as well as many “off set” realities add much to the production.

Bottomline:  it was a fine pleasure to attend one of my favorite plays, only to see some strikingly original qualities which greatly added to the enjoyment and understanding of this enduring script. Even if you have seen On Golden Pond a few times, this production will delight and satisfy. Director Allen has accomplished much with this production.

On Golden Pond continues at IRT through May 10. You can find out more about scheduled dates and times by going to http://www.irtlive.com or by calling the IRT box office at 317-635-5252.

* – Photos by Zach Rosing

**- Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale

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