Published On: Sat, Feb 10th, 2018

Palm Beach Dramaworks Adaptation of On Golden Pond is A Visual Delight

by Susan Nefzger

Upon entering Palm Beach Dramaworks Ricci Stage to enjoy the hallowed play On Golden Pond, written by Ernest Thompson, one is immediately struck by the realistic and aesthetic appeal of a Maine cabin as surrounded by a view of the woods.  It’s simply charming, with the props that accent the look and feel of summer activities such as fishing rods, broad brimmed hats, tackle boxes, various shoes by the door to change into from outdoor walks, a dial telephone and even the 1917 historical plaque over the fireplace adds a flavor reminiscent of times gone by without the distraction of digital media, television and computers.

The approach to the timeline change is deliberate according to Director Paul Stancato, “I chose to set the play in 1988 because it was important for me to show the world before the technology age. No cell phones, no laptops, no tablets. If you wanted to communicate with someone in that world, you had to actually talk to them. You bonded through conversation and fishing side by side.” These activities encouraged real human connections as is witnessed by the evolving familial relationships between Norman who is about to turn 80, dripping with pessimism and bigotry, but clearly in love with Ethel, his darling wife who is 10 years younger and is the opposite in terms of outlook, an optimist and full of energy and spark. She also, is still in love and married to Norman after 48 years. They envision spending the summer in their peaceful summer home.While parts of the cabin are in disrepair, it adds to the rustic appeal and is a metaphor for how aging Norman Thayer feels in his old age as he repeatedly ignores the broken screen door that is on his “to do” list, yet knows its there to eventually be confronted. He’s facing the fact that he can’t remember things, such as directions to the familiar road which leads to a favorite strawberry picking spot, and witnessed by one funny scene as he calls the operator to check if the phone still works.

Both Carbonell Award winners, Norman is played by veteran Florida actor John Felix, a Dramaworks regular and Ethel is played by a  visiting actor, Pat Bowie who played the matriarch Lena Younger in the Dramaworks production of A Raisin in the Sun. Acclaimed actress and Dramaworks resident actress,  Karen Stephens plays Chelsea while her boyfriend Bill will be played by Dramaworks’ stalwart Jim Ballard who, among other things, played the Irish boat owner in Dramaworks’ The Cripple of Inishmaan.

As many of you know, tranquility does not await the elderly couple as Chelsea, their daughter who is dearly loved but troubled, arrives to leave her boyfriend’s 13 year old son for a month while she goes to Europe with her boyfriend. Poignantly, the teenager and Norman bond. Even as the peaceful evenings are highlighted by ever present Loon calls, when Chelsea returns now married to the boyfriend, the rocky relationship between Chelsea and Norman reemerges to finally be resolved.

The play was relatively successful, although it went on to a stronger afterlife in regional theaters, even birthing a 2005 Broadway revival with James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams. But much of its fame stems from a 1981 film version with Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda and Henry Fonda, who won an Oscar in his final film role.

A closing sentiment from director Stancato summarizes the theme of the play as one of identity.

“Identity is a major theme of this play. Knowing ones’ self helps to define our individuality and our commonalities.”

Evening performances of On Golden Pond are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30PM, Friday and Saturday at 8PM, and select Sundays at 7PM. Matinee performances are on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2PM. Post-performance discussions follow Wednesday matinee and Sunday evening performances. Individual tickets are $75, with specially priced preview tickets at $55 and Opening Night tickets at $90. Student tickets are available for $15, and Pay Your Age tickets are available for those 18-40. Tickets for educators are half price with proper ID (other restrictions apply). Group rates for 20 or more and discounted season subscriptions are also available.

The Don & Ann Brown Theatre is located in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach, at 201 Clematis Street. For ticket information contact the box office at (561) 514-4042, or visit

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