It’s about the family: On Golden Pond at Amelia Community Theatre

Event: On Golden Pond
Venue: Amelia Community Theatre, 207 Cedar Street, Fernandina Beach
Dates: October 6 – 8, October 13 – 15 at 8pm and October 9 at 2pm.
Tickets: adults – $22 and students through college – $10
Contact: (904) 261-6749 or
Director: Toni D’Armico

Three generations come together to overcome their differences and fete life at its dawn, zenith and twilight.

I was perhaps the youngest among some 50 attendees. “Will this even interest me,” I thought while observing the rows of silvery hair and fine-lined faces that made an audience reflective – and possibly empathetic – of the aging protagonists of the play On Golden Pond. And yet, as the droll, touching scenes unfolded, I found myself absorbed in the throes and joy of revered maturity, the charm and dullness of a routine, the startle and promise of a fresh – albeit late – start.

Commencing the 36th season at Amelia Community Theatre (ACT), the comedy – written by Earnest Thompson in 1979 and first staged here in 1998 –  spans the 48th consecutive summer, which Norman and Ethel Thayer idle away in their cottage on the Golden Pond lake. The idyll monotony of their previous bug-laden retreats, however, fails to settle in this time around.

Troubled by his waning memory – which has not inhibited his witty sarcasm – Norman, an 80-year old retired professor, searches the local paper’s job section for opportunities to feel worthy again. Loving and supportive, Ethel, a decade Norman’s junior, attempts to comfort him but to no avail. The antidote to Norman’s old-age blues strikes unexpectedly when the elderly spouses’ middle-aged daughter Chelsea asks them to host her boyfriend’s son Billy, while the couple ventures off to Europe. Much to Ethel’s delight, Norman does not only bond with Billy over fishing, great books and teenage slang but also mends his strained relationship with Chelsea.

A play that has brought awards to many thespians, its adaptation at ACT filled almost two hours with gushing laughter, knowing nods and approving cheer. Comprised of theater enthusiasts and volunteers, the cast – under the directorial guidance of Toni D’Amico – deftly conveyed the rigor, humor and fervor  of family affairs, which band and divide generations. The creative clout of the 6-strong troupe commanded the notable debuts of two actors – Brandon Bingham as brainy, nippy Billy and Ron Price as happy-go-lucky mailman Charlie. The veterans on stage were Don Maley and Christina Johns, whose artistic synergy spawned a heartfelt portrayal of the tenderness and affection between Norman and Ethel.

Don Maley as Norman Thayer Jr
Christina Johns as Ethel Thayer
Ron Price as Charlie Martin
Laura Swaim as Chelsea Thayer Wayne
Brandon Bingham as Billy Ray
Jeff McDowell as Bill Ray

From simple arguments over strawberry picking to harpy jokes about Jewish dentists, from warm mother-daughter moments to bitter father-daughter exchanges, from the dawn of one romantic relationship to the dusk of another, On Golden Pond, as produced by ACT, delighted with an engaging delivery of some fundamental life lessons. It is a growing-up-and-growing-old story about love, forgiveness and happiness that will linger in my mind for days to come. The remarks – ranging from “it was good” to “that was so wonderful”– that many spectators expressed in the end as they trickled out of the auditorium to customary greet the performers implied they shared my impressions.

About Dima Vitanova