Encore Michigan

Tibbits brings ‘Golden Pond’ to Coldwater

Review August 03, 2021 Julie Linderleaf

COLDWATER, MI–Often on facebook a picture of a secluded cabin in the woods or a house on a beach pops up with the caption: Could you spend a month or a year here WITHOUT a phone or internet?

In the current day and age, going without either of those two things would be detrimental to most people even for a single day.  However, there was a time when families often would pack up supplies and belongings and head to a vacation spot for the entire summer to enjoy the idles of natures and time with their family.

Tibbits Opera House here chose just this kind of production to stage for their final summer performance; On Golden Pond by Ernest Thompson.

On Golden Pond is a classic play that most people connect to the movie version with Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda. Many fondly remember the symbolic connection to the loons and the loving relationship that can stand the test of time, and even the onset of dementia.

This elderly couple, Norman (played by Paul Kerr) and Ethel Thayer (played by Gloria Logan),spend another summer at Ethel’s family’s cottage on Golden Pond, this year celebrating Norman’s 80th birthday. Ethel sends a pressing letter to their divorced, childless and 40+ year-old  daughter Chelsea (played byStephanie Burdick), hoping that she might return to celebrate the event after so many absent summers. She brings along her new fiance’, Billy Ray(played by Peter Riopelle) and surprisingly his teenage son, also Billy Ray (played by Jack Hopewell). While Chelsea and Billy Ray Sr. leave on a month-long European vacation, the younger Billy Ray stays behind with the Thayer’s and bond over fishing and Tollhouse cookies.

This show on the surface seems like just a simple summer vacation, but truly has deeper roots to divorce, Alzheimer’s disease, father-daughter relationships, and uncomfortable family histories.

Paul Kerr does a remarkable job characterizing Norman; this crotchety retired English professor who still idolizes his wife, criticizes his daughter, and is terrified about his impending dive into losing his faculties. The second act explodes in emotion, as Chelsea returns from Europe to pickup Billy Ray.  Burdick accurately depicts the angst of a daughter who never felt good enough for her father even though she tried for decades to find ways to try and connect with him.

The stage, designed by Stephanie Burdick and Brenda Sparks, depicts the warm and comfortable summer cottage of the past. Old Yahtzee and Monopoly boxes and books pile on the coffee table, while fishing equipment leans in the corners, creating a well-lived -in cottage.

The director’s (Branda Sparks) choice of having the actors move about the stage with silent stage business during the scenes changes was a bold move.  Watching Paul Kerr repeatedly try to fix a screen door or watching Stephanie Burdick hug the mailman and childhood summer sweetheart Charlie expertly characterized by Chad Tallon was a refreshing way to pace the show to the next scene.

This is definitely a show about reminiscing–both the good and bad.  It should kindle connections in the audience to their own summers past.  Call  517-278-6029 for tickets, or go to the website to order tickets before its summer season closes August 6.

Week of 6/5/2023

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