The New Depot Players are on fire. They keep producing quality entertainment that is amazingly available in our backyard. The juggernauts staged earlier in the season, "You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown" and "Steel Magnolias," should be impossible acts to follow, but "On Golden Pond" delivers and then some.
Anchored by two tour-de-force veterans, Weldon Durham as Norman Thayers and Bobbie Elzey as Ethel Thayers, the play unfolds at Norman and Ethel Thayers’ Maine lake house as they arrive for the summer to celebrate Norman’s 80th birthday. They’re surprised and ultimately delighted when their estranged daughter Chelsea shows up with her fiancé and his son. This visit sets the stage for rebirth and reconciliation.
Ethel has the "old poop’s" number, a.k.a. Norman. Their enjoyable banter encourages us in the notion that perhaps aging isn’t an entirely bad thing. Elzey charmingly embodies both Ethel’s sunny side attitude and strength and serves as a perfect foil to Norman’s delightful abrasiveness. "You know, Norman, you really are the sweetest man in the world, but I'm the only one who knows it," Ethel informs us.
Events are set into motion when Chelsea, their daughter, leaves Billy Ray, her fiance’s son, in the Thayers’ care while she and the beau head to Europe. Norman introduces Billy to fishing and great literature while Billy returns the favor tutoring Norman in salty slang and giving him a new lease on life in general.
Billy Ray is played by Joel Chivington, a Heritage High School sophomore, who, despite his tender years, has an incredible resume. Not only has he performed in numerous stage productions, but he also will appear in a yet-to-be-released feature film, "The Joneses," starring Demi Moore and David Duchovny.
Nailing her character’s vulnerability, Kim Fratesi, as Chelsea, compels you to root for her and inspires you to face your own demons. Upon her return, Chelsea finally confronts the divide between her and her father when she witnesses how Billy has become the son Norman never had and she aspired to be.
"It just seems like we've been mad at each other for so long..." Chelsea tells her father. Norman, being Norman, replies "I didn't think we were mad; I just thought we didn't like each other." Enough cannot be said about all Weldon Durham, Professor Emeritus of Theatre at the University of Missouri-Columbus, brings to his nuanced portrayal of Norman.
Rounding out the superb cast are Rick Bryant and Andy Smith. Smith brings Charlie the ever entertaining Mailman to life. Bryant’s too brief appearance results in an awkward and hilarious moment when he and Norman have their "bottom line" chat during Bill Ray’s misguided attempt to get his permission to share a room with Chelsea under Thayer’s roof.
Leading the dynamic cast is multi-talented director, Anne Hargis, who also played Truvy Jones in "Steel Magnolias." "The act of preparing and producing live theatre is an interesting progression. A community is formed in the process…," said Hargis. Community indeed, it takes a dedicated village to stage a play of this magnitude, from the actors to assistant directors Tom Johnson and Maria Morales-Johnson to their faithful band of "minions," or crew as they’re more broadly known. More remarkable is the level of skill and artistry brought to this production given that they all have fairly intense day jobs, which include medical doctor to stay-at-home mom and everything in between. When most people’s days are done, they’re reporting to duty for another three hours.
And thank goodness they do. As Hargis said, "On Golden Pond gives us hope that it is never too late to connect with our family, to renew our love, and to grow."
If you are part of the unfortunate population that missed TNDP’s other offerings this year, remedy the situation, pronto! "On Golden Pond" runs from Oct. 16 to 18 and Oct. 22 to 24 at the Center Street Arts Theater. To purchase tickets and for more information, call 770-922-3143 or go to www.conyersarts.org.