On Golden Pond

[The following review appeared in the Denver Post on August 27th.]

Facing one's mortality and making peace with those toward whom we're unsettled is healthy at any age, but it is especially so as we get up in years, as evidenced in Vintage Theatre's current production of Ernest Thompson's On Golden Pond.

Anne Oberbroeckling as Ethel and Mike Pearl as Norman
Anne Oberbroeckling as Ethel
and Mike Pearl as Norman
Norman Thayer (Mike Pearl), a retired English professor, and his wife Ethel (Anne Oberbroeckling) have just returned to their summer home of 48 years, where they struggle with Norman's fading memory and health issues.

During their respite, they reconnect with their daughter, Chelsea, meet her new love interest, Bill, and his teenage son, Billy, and reminisce with the local mailman, Charlie, an old family friend and Chelsea's one-time boyfriend.

Thompson was only 28 years old when he wrote this play, but his insights into intergenerational dynamics are delightful. Pearl and Oberbroeckling's natural chemistry create a warm and humorous centerpiece for this poignant tale.

Pearl weaves together the cantankerous Norman's burgeoning senility, persnickety grammer, glaring bigotries, and wicked wit into a seamless and darkly comedic portrait. Oberbroeckling deftly tempers Ethel's sensitivity and exuberance with a potent streak of wisdom capable of managing Norman's rough edges.

Aside from Norman's fixation on his imminent demise, the old fellow has a bad habit of putting people down, especially his daughter. Abby Apple Boes eases Chelsea's pain from her father's barbs with a wry and world-weary sense of humor.

When Chelsea and Norman trade volleys, the WASPish emotional restraint is palpable; though, when Chelsea's resentment towards her mother boils over, such restraint seems unnatural and belies the physical connection between mother and daughter.

Ian Frazier's Billy enjoys a playful, and at times brash, interplay with Norman, providing the octogenarian with the son he never had, opening the door for Norman's reconciliation with Chelsea.

Dixon White mines a genial vein as the hapless Charlie who, with support from Ethel, is able to deflect Norman's acerbic taunts; on the flip side, White is equally convincing expressing deep sorrow when it becomes clear that Charlie's longing for Chelsea is unrequited.

Ken Paul smoothly navigates the challenge of Bill as a man out of his element, an urban professional uncomfortable in the rustic setting; but, when Bill asserts himself after being put down by Norman, the blocking feels disconnected from the emotions of the scene. The effect minimizes the physical differences between the virile Bill and the brittle Norman and makes Bill seem an inadequate husband for Chelsea.

Despite a few distractions, in an age when our elders are all too often marginalized for our emotional and economic convenience, Thompson's thoughtful, funny, and poignant meditation on aging provides a number of truths that offer an upbeat take on later life.

Vintage Theatre's production of On Golden Pond runs through September 19th. 303-839-1361 or

Bob Bows


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