ALHAMBRA THEATRE & DINING REVIEW
The Alhambra’s current show, the classic “On Golden Pond,” by Ernest Thompson, will be on stage at 12000 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida until May 3, 2015. If you enjoy plays with likeable characters facing real-life family dilemmas, you’ll love this one.
The stage version ran for almost 400 productions, opening on Broadway at the New Apollo Theatre in 1979 and later moving to the Century Theatre, a smaller venue. Many readers, no doubt, are familiar with the 1981 film movie version with Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda, and Katherine Hepburn, all of whom picked up Oscars for their roles.
Just a brief sketch of the plot to refresh your memory. The loons have returned to Golden Pond, a lake in Maine, and so have Norman Thayer (Mike Farrell), a retired professor, and his wife Ethel (Jan Neuberger); they have spent every summer since the beginning of their marriage at their lakeside cottage.
This summer, their daughter (Kelsey Denae) comes to visit, as she wants to be there for Norman’s eightieth birthday. She lives in California, is in her forties, and hasn’t seen her parents for several years. She and her fiancé Bill Ray (Joe Ditmyer) are on their way to Europe, where they plan to stay for several weeks. Norman and Ethel agree to care for Billy Ray (William Gooden), Bill’s adolescent son, while the travelers are away. When Chelsea returns, she surprises her mother by telling her she and Bill have married. During her absence, Norman and Billy have developed a close relationship; Ethel indicates she and Norman consider him the grandson they had hoped for.
The playwright has added a sixth character, who did not appear in the film. Charlie, played with hilarity by Michael St. Pierre, has been the mailman at Golden Pond for thirty years and was Chelsea’s boyfriend in the past. We got the impression that Norman discouraged further commitment because he did not approve of a Charlie-Chelsea match.
All this takes place in a lovely summer home designed by Dave Dionne who has added the many touches that make the setting comfortably rustic, like a mounted fish, an antlers trophy, and a vintage telephone.
The Lighting Designer (Justin Rauckhorst) and Sound Designer (Jim Jackson) did an excellent job of creating a Maine summer. The only thing missing was the sound of crickets, but then perhaps they don’t have crickets in Maine.
The Alhambra under the direction of Producer/Director Tod Booth has assembled an outstanding cast for this play, all of whom are making their first appearance on this stage.
Joe Ditmyer has only one scene as the dentist boyfriend Bill Ray, but he makes the most of it. Bill and crusty old Norman spar when he asks if he and Chelsea can share the same bed while in Norman’s home.
Billy Ray is played by St. Augustine actor William Gooden, whom we have seen in the past in “Oliver” and “The Addams Family” at the Limelight Theatre St. Augustine. Gooden plays a street-wise thirteen year old; his hobby is “chasing chicks” and playing “suck face.” He is excellent in the role and Norman rapidly warms up to him, as does the audience.
Jan Neuberger has the task of being Norman’s loving and devoted wife and handles it well. Ms. Neuberger has impressive Broadway and Off-Broadway credits, and has relocated from New York to the Tampa area. She was a crowd favorite and we are sure we will be seeing her again on this stage. The chemistry between her and Norman was remarkable, and when she says “You are the sweetest man in the world and I am the only one who knows it,” we believed her.
Mike Farrell, who is well known to us from his years on television in “M*A*S*H.” is picture-perfect as an eighty-year old facing challenges as he ages. In the Alhambra program, Mr. Farrell’s biography fills two pages with his accomplishments in show business. In addition to his work as an actor, he has also been a successful director and producer of various projects. A number of patrons were visibly moved to tears when Norman, during an emotional moment, confesses he is afraid of getting lost on a road he had walked down many times in the past. “On Golden Pond” can make you laugh, but it will also tug at your heart strings.
This heartwarming comedy is one for all ages and is your opportunity to meet Captain B. J. Hunnicut of “M*A*S*H” up close and personal. Visit alhambrajax.com or call 641-1212 for reservations.