Rochester Civic Theatre is closing its season with what baseball fan Norman Thayer Jr. would recognize as a game-winning grand slam.
“On Golden Pond,” which opened last weekend, is the only non-musical at RCT in the 2014-2015 season, and it is both satisfying and gratifying. With only one play on the schedule that doesn’t involve singing and dancing, there might have been the temptation to overplay the dramatics. Instead, director Gregory Stavrou and his cast present a nicely controlled and finely tuned production that still finds all the humor and poignancy in Ernest Thompson’s play.
The story revolves around Norman and his wife, Ethel, who have returned for their 48th summer at a cabin on Golden Pond in Maine. Norman is having some difficulties with memory, while Ethel seems to frequently live through her memories of better times. Into this delicate setting arrive their grown daughter, Chelsea, with her new fiance, Bill, and his son, Billy.
It’s a joy to watch the on-stage chemistry between newcomer Merritt Olsen, as Norman, and Mary Lambert as Ethel. Olsen oversells nothing in his portrait of Norman and in the process draws us in close to his character. Lambert is in perfect harmony throughout, whether her Ethel is watching her favorite loons on the lake or compensating for Norman’s misstatements and misadventures.
Their only regular visitor is Charlie, the mailman, given a daffy laugh and disheveled appearance by Angus Russell. Amanda Ruggeri’s angry Chelsea is jarring in this homey atmosphere, but she’s trying to overcome decades of distance from her father. Sean Lundberg is Bill Ray, whose first scene with Norman, his prospective father-in-law, is priceless in its awkwardness. Norman wants to talk baseball, but Bill has something more serious on his mind.
It’s falls to Billy Ray, played by Logan Ackerman, to make a connection with Norman that makes the old man set aside his creeping infirmities. Can Billy be the bridge that finally connects father and daughter?
Audiences will find themselves laughing more than might have been expected in a play with somber overtones. In fact, some lines went unheard when they were drowned out by laughter from the previous line.
“On Golden Pond” is a wonderful story when done right, and with this production, RCT closes its season in just the right way.
If you go
All performances of “On Golden Pond,” which runs through May 31, are sold out. Call the box office, 507-282-8481, to check on returns.