By Charles Calabrese
LISBON - If you'd like to see three generations of actors at the top of their game, acting from a script worthy of their talents, you won't want to miss the Stage Left Players' production of Ernest Thompson's warm and funny comedy-drama, "On Golden Pond."
First-time director John Diddle displays a sure hand as he moves his talented cast over Ali Cleland's beautifully detailed interior of a rustic summer house on the title-named pond in Maine.
The house has belonged to Ethel Thayer's family for three generations. Ethel and her retired English professor husband, Norman, are back again for the summer. Things get interesting with the arrival of their estranged daughter, Chelsea, her fiance, Bill, and his son, Bill Junior.
Dave Wack delivers a multi-layered performance as Norman, a cantankerous octogenarian who wouldn't know political correctness if it bit him on his skinny posterior. Wack also deals with Norman's realization that his mental faculties are beginning to diminish without melodrama and with honest emotion.
Kari Lankford is Wack's perfect match as Ethel, whose optimism balances Norman's pessimism. Lankford captures Ethel's strength, compassion and love but also the character's own faults, including a blindness to Norman's emotional neglect of their daughter, for which Chelsea holds Ethel partially responsible.
Courtney Stewart displays a maturity and insight far beyond her years in the role of Chelsea. Her confrontations with both Norman and Ethel are riveting, heartfelt and raw. Stewart makes Chelsea's evolution from decades-old grudge-holding to a willingness to resolve her differences with her parents believable by her subtle, gradual changes in vocal tone and body language.
But the real find of this production is Ben Morgan, making his Stage Left debut as Bill Junior. This young man comes across as a real kid, with no pretense or pretension. His warm and funny interactions with Wack's Norman are the key to Norman's evolution from emotional distance and his ultimate reconciliation with Chelsea. Without a believable Bill Junior the story would lose credibility. With someone as good as Morgan in the role, everything comes together perfectly.
Will Flannigan turns in a scene-stealing performance as Charlie, the local postal carrier who has had a hopeless crush on Chelsea since childhood. Flannigan brings out the character's goofy likability, which also explains why Chelsea never took Charlie seriously.
Nathan Kuhns does a fine job with the underwritten part of Bill Ray Senior, the man with whom Chelsea finally finds happiness. Despite his own youth, Kuhns projects the maturity that makes the character a good father and good husband material.
Debra Fonner has a nice cameo as the unseen telephone operator who politely deals with Norman's sometimes eccentric requests. Fonner takes a slightly nasal tone to her delivery, reminiscent of a time when operators' voices were real, instead of the pre-recorded, computer-generated annoyances they are today.
"On Golden Pond" will be presented again at Trinity Playhouse this Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Call for reservations at 330-831-7249. This show gets my highest recommendation for adults and mature teens, due to the tasteful discussion of some mature themes. I guarantee that you'll be entertained and moved by this excellent production.
- Guest reviewer Charles Calabrese, a resident of Wintersville, has been writing performing arts reviews for print and broadcast for more than 35 years.