ATTLEBORO - To open its 53rd season, Attleboro Community Theatre is presenting a moving production of the classic Ernest Thompson play "On Golden Pond," featuring a talented local cast.
Directed by Jack Shipley, the production blends heartwarming humor, poignancy associated with growing old, and the tension of family relationships amid a rustic setting. The stage is ably designed by ACT volunteers Tammy England, Bev Darling, Shipley and Kevin Boisse.
The story revolves around aging couple Norman and Ethel Thayer as they face the challenges of growing old and the their tense relationship with estranged daughter Chelsea. The drama is set at the family's summer cottage on Golden Pond.
Norman, a retired school teacher about to celebrate his 80th birthday, is feeling useless and peruses the newspapers for work. He is suffering from memory loss, and all he can talk about is death.
Bert Cayer of Woonsocket brings out the crotchety humor in Norman's character and combines it with a touch of regret and despair. As his wife Ethel, Lisa Forsgard of North Attleboro is genuine in her portrayal of the character, who is both concerned and exasperated with Norman's state of mind. There is a relaxed and natural rapport between Cayer and Forsgard, and it is easy to believe that they have been together as a couple for a long time. It is this ease that heightens the emotion in Act I when Norman realizes he can't remember the way to the town road to pick strawberries, and at the end of the play when Ethel thinks she may lose Norman to a heart attack.
Tension ensues when Chelsea arrives to celebrate Norman's 80th birthday with her new beau Bill and Bill's son, Billy Jr. Karen Gibson plays the daughter still trying to win her father's love and approval. Gibson's talent is evident in that she is able to show both the confidence that Chelsea has when not in her father's presence, as well as the anguish in trying to measure up for Norman. The tension is palpable in her scenes with Norman and Ethel, and credit here can be given both to director Shipley and to Gibson.
In Act II, Chelsea returns from her trip in Europe to retrieve Billy Jr. only to discover that he is enjoying a relationship with Norman that she long craved. Both Gibson and Forsgard shines as they confront Chelsea's need to dwell on the past. Forsgard is forceful here as Ethel, the peacemaker between father and daughter, urges Chelsea to move forward to build a new relationship with Norman before it's too late.
As beau Bill, Kevin Fish holds is own facing up to Norman's taunts. This character can be played somewhat timid, but Fish brings a more confident Bill to the stage.
Kyle Maguire plays Billy Jr., who manages to bring a new sense of purpose to Norman over the summer. Maguire plays the scenes well, exuding early teen boredom but also embodying an endearing youth who not only learns French and fishing from Norman but also teaches Norman something about being a father. It is perhaps their relationship that helps to heal the hurt in Norman's relationship with Chelsea.
Also easing the tension and bringing some humor to the stage is W. Grant Willis as Charlie, the "old maid" mailman. His Down-east Maine accent is right on and his Charlie is somewhat naïve, easily played by Norman but also endearing and down to earth.
As we move deep into autumn, this heartwarming "On Golden Pond" is a must see for the season.
ACT's production of "On Golden Pond" runs through Oct. 25, with performances Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at the Bates Masonic Lodge, 71 North Main St., Attleboro. Phone: 508-226-8100. Web: www.attleborocommunitytheatre.com.