40-plus and still golden
By Paul Atreides
★★★★ - Delicious
It’s been more than a year since my last theatre review. The play “Thurgood” was presented in person to an audience of six in the venue, which seats 155. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on the theatre community with dark houses. But it looks like we’re back, baby.
Venturing out among unmasked people was a little scary, but how could I not attend when the two lead roles of Ethel and Norman Thayer are filled by Las Vegas icons Valerie Carpenter-Bernstein and Gary Lunn, respectively.
For the final production of their 21-22 season, Vegas Theatre Company (formerly Cockroach Theatre) has mounted “On Golden Pond” by Ernest Thompson. It’s a script that mostly holds up after 43 years. After all, there are still curmudgeonly old men who would be lost without their caring wives.
Lunn takes curmudgeon and makes us love him. His Norman is full of fun. There’s a half-smile that appears when he’s poking fun at someone else’s expense. The only one who catches on fast and sees it for what it is is his future son-in-law, Bill Ray. When Lunn dispenses with being old and near death, the idea that he’s serious is just below the surface of the factiousness. Lunn is having a good time, and it shows.
After 49 years of marriage, his wife Ethel is well aware of Norman’s shenanigans. Carpenter-Bernstein responds to the “old poop” with total love and understanding. She brings feistiness and a tiny bit of looniness to the role while, at the same time, keeping a laser focus on the husband, who seems to be obsessed with aging and dying.
Playing daughter Chelsea (Katrina Currow) is a tough, unenviable task. The script doesn’t provide the transitional dialogue needed to move from happiness to ruminating on her faulty relationship with a father she refers to as Norman rather than Daddy to allowing herself to show her excitement and happiness at having gotten married while on vacation in Brussels. As a result, Currow still pulls off a decent job.
As Chelsea’s fiancé-turned-husband, Bill Ray, Mario Peoples, is on to Norman pretty quickly. Given one scene, he delivers a fine performance putting Norman in his place and coming to what might be considered a gentleman’s agreement when it comes to sex with Chelsea.
Billy (Sofonyas Alebachew) is Bill’s 13-year-old son. Alebachew portrays Billy as a beaming, fun-loving kid from the get-go rather than the sullen, rebelling child of divorce. And that’s the problem. When he first meets Norman, he tries to shock and taunt an old man. By the end of the play, they’ve become buddies and partners in crime. However, it feels as if any character growth is missing.
The supporting cast also includes Erik Amblad as Charlie, the guy who delivers the mail to the residents of Golden Pond via boat and has kept a candle burning for Chelsea. Amblad digs into Charlie with gusto, mining every extrinsic motivation in the script to great success. He’s a joy to watch, and the laugh is contagious.
Overall, it’s a lovely evening that starts out with Jenn Chandler playing her cello and singing to entertain the audience with tunes such as “Summer Wind” and “Singing In the Rain.” Her interpretations of the songs, along with the scene interludes she’s composed for the production, are wonderfully fitting.
What: On Golden Pond
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday - Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 5 p.m. Sunday through May 8
No performance Friday, May 6 due to First Friday
Where: Vegas Theatre Company, 1025 S. 1st St
Tickets: $25 - $33 (725-222-9661 or visit theatre.vegas
Grade: **** Delicious
Producer: Vegas Theatre Company; Director: Daz Weller; Set Design: Whitney Lehn Meltz; Lighting Design: Jordan Hall; Sound/Projection Design: M. Sohaa Smith; Stage Manager: Lily E Vetter; Original Compositions/Live Music: Jenn Chandler