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Theater Review: “On Golden Pond”

“On Golden Pond” plays through November 5, 2017 at Welk Resort Theatre San Diego, 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido. 
Photo credit:
Welk Resort Theatre San Diego

A frayed father-daughter bond and the problems of aging are the concerns of Ernest Thompson’s “On Golden Pond,” presented by Broadway Vista Theater and playing in a short run through Nov. 5 at Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido. 

Norman Thayer (Lou Slocum) and his wife Ethel (Marilyn Wolfe) are moving into their mountain cottage in Maine for the summer, just as they’ve done for the past 47 years. This year it’s a little more difficult because Norman is 79 and his sight is not good – nor is his memory. The retired English prof has become a crusty, grumpy old geezer with a wry sense of humor who seems to spend most of his time thinking morbid thoughts and waiting for death – or making Ethel repeat what she just said, all of which drive Ethel crazy....and inspire rueful smiles from audience members who have been there. 

But how can she get angry when she sends him out to pick strawberries and he returns empty-handed, saying “I forgot the way in the woods, so I came running back to you”? 

With luck, this summer will be more festive, because they will celebrate Norman’s 80th birthday at the cabin. 

Daughter Chelsea (Holly MacDonald), 47, who lives in California and has been at odds with Norman for a very long time, shows up to celebrate the big birthday with her dentist boyfriend Bill Ray (Torre Younghans) and his 13-year-old son Billy Jr. (Reese Castin) in tow. Chelsea realizes that it’s finally time to bury the hatchet and have that long-needed heart-to-heart talk. 

Relieving some of the tension is kindly local mailman Charlie (Douglas Davis), Chelsea’s former boyfriend.  

Norman grumbles when Chelsea asks if they will keep Billy, Jr. while she and Bill go off on a European vacation. The kid isn’t exactly thrilled either, but it turns out that Billy’s youth and enthusiasm are just what Norman needs. Norman takes him out on the lake with full fishing regalia, teaches him French and gets him to read Alexandre Dumas and “Swiss Family Robinson.” Billy teaches Norman teen terms like “suck face.” 

Director Randall Hickman has a good feel for placement and emotional space. He also designed the rustic mountain cabin (but please fix that door that doesn’t quite close). 

Slocum is terrific as Norman, the old curmudgeon brought back to humanity by the delightful Castin’s Billy Ray, Jr., who livens the place considerably. 

Wolfe is excellent as Ethel, determined to remain positive even as she watches Norman slipping away. 

MacDonald is a credible Chelsea, and Younghans is fine in a part that doesn’t give him much to do. 

Davis’ down-home Charlie is charming and the only cast member who attempts a vaguely Eastern accent.  

“On Golden Pond” opened in 1979, and it shows its age a bit. But the themes of family alienation and the problems of aging are timeless, and this production serves them well. 

The details 

“On Golden Pond” plays through November 5, 2017 at Welk Resort Theatre San Diego, 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido. 

Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 1 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 pm. 

Tickets: (888) 802-7469