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On Golden Pond

- Backstage with the Playwrights

On Golden Pond
(On Golden Pond Website)
By Ernest Thompson

Presented by Jeffrey Finn, Arlene Scanlan, Stuart Thompson
At the
Cort Theatre
138 West 48th Street

James Earl Jones as Norman Thayer, Jr.
Leslie Uggams as Ethel Thayer
Linda Powell as Chelsea Thayer Wayne
Craig Bockhorn as Charlie Martin
Peter Francis James as Bill Ray
Alexander Mitchell as Billy Ray

Directed by Leonard Foglia
Scenic Design: Ray Klausen
Costume Design: Jane Greenwood
Lighting Design: Brian Nason
Original Music and Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier
Technical Supervisor: Christopher C. Smith/Smitty
Production Stage Manager: Kelley Kirkpatrick
Press Representative: The Publicity Office
Marketing: The Marketing Group
Casting: Stuart Howard/Amy Schecter/Paul Hardt
General Management: Stuart Thompson Productions/James Triner
Associate Producers:, Inc./Neal Edelsen/Andy Sawyer

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 12, 2005

James Earl Jones, renowned theatrical and film actor, as well as the voice of CNN and figure of Verizon, is the magnetic and monumental star of a Broadway hit, Leonard Foglia’s new outsized production of On Golden Pond. James Earl Jones’ stature, operatic vocal chords, deep lung capacity, and sense of presence are still intact, but, in contrast to his renowned characterizations of Hamlet and King Lear, he now plays the endearing, but cranky, Norman Thayer, Jr., retired English professor. On a one-set stage, replete with Maine summer cottage beams, stone fireplace, old oak and pine furniture, and the largest picture window I’ve ever seen, that gazes upon a lake of changing weather and passing time, Jones as Norman draws the audience into his dilemma.

This dilemma, an 80th birthday fast approaching, with one father-daughter relationship to mend, while not losing face, is the underlying thread of this humorous/semi-tragic plot, and that relationship becomes more complex by the minute, as his long divorced daughter, Chelsea, brings home a new beau, Bill Ray, and his thirteen year-old son, Billy Ray. Norman’s wife, Ethel, glowingly performed by the charismatic Leslie Uggams, star of Broadway musicals (Hallelujah, Baby!) and theatrical tours, television (at age six, she starred in Beulah), concert productions, and films, plays the “seasoned” wife, who guides her husband through his chores and conversations, with wit, warmth, and womanly wisdom.

They remind me of Tevye and Golde in Fiddler on the Roof, singing “Do You Love Me?”. Their love is the product of years of togetherness and common experience. Summer after summer, Norman and Ethel have walked the paths near Golden Pond, picking strawberries, listening to the loons, and dining by the fireplace, watching the sun set on the glorified lake. She adapted to his sometimes callous and cold behavior, and he adapted to her strong, but nurturing companionship. When he refuses to take a walk on the strawberry path, she forces him out, much like a mother bird pushing the baby from the nest. This is some big baby, though, and he soon returns forlorn, because he lost his way on familiar terrain, the creeping age dilemma advancing the action.

The arrival of Chelsea, appropriately and artistically played by Linda Powell, is the watershed moment for Norman to face his fear and continue intransigent behavior or open to new possibilities, especially as the family may grow again with the addition of an instant, pre-teen grandson and son-in-law. Chelsea tries to mend fences, but it takes time and an unexpected turn of events for Norman to take the leap of faith. Peter Francis James, as Bill Ray, the new beau, a successful dentist to his favor, holds his own, one-on-one, in a metaphorical bullfight with Norman, with both on country chairs. Alexander Mitchell, as Billy Ray, the cool, charged, casual, and challenging pre-teen, is a youthful actor with a promising future.

It is young Billy that touches unknown terrain beneath Norman’s tough surface, and the dilemma seems more manageable and less menacing. Norman learns “cool talk”, and he now swears to the wind and fishes in the rain and leaps from his nest, with nary a shove. One final character, Craig Bockhorn, as Charlie Martin, the mailman (who had an early but unrequited crush on Chelsea and remained single into his prime), is as natural as a Yankee mailman could be (This writer is a native New Englander, who knows the nature of tough, Yankee personalities). Charlie is the only native Yankee in the bunch (The Thayers reside in Pennsylvania), and Craig Bockhorn is quite comfortable in the chatty, but vulnerable role. He exudes class, as did all the actors tonight, and this production of On Golden Pond is one class act.

Another class act is actually the stage set, designed by Ray Klausen. The chipped beams against the starry, sunny, cloudy, or moonlit lake, with country-oak all around, exude a wonderful ambiance of familiarity and family. And, yet another class act occurs when Ms. Uggams and Ms. Powell break into song, and lovely a Capella music filters through the warm glaze of summer. Both Ms. Uggams and Mr. Jones have professionally gifted vocalization, and the dynamic dialogue in On Golden Pond is as textured as the surreal scenery. Kudos to all.

Photo courtesy of JOAN MARCUS

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at