IF YOU GO
What: Retirees Norman and Ethel spend the summer in a Maine cottage and explore relationships with their estranged daughter and others
When: 8 p.m. Wed. - Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun. through March 14
Where: 1055 N. Collier Blvd. Marco Island
Information: Call 642-7270 or themarcoplayers.com
Something Else: The theater is located in the Marco Town Center Mall directly across from the Crazy Flamingo restaurant.
Bathroom Break: The first act is 85 minutes; a visit to the mens or ladies is recommended before taking your seats.
MARCO ISLAND — Henry Fonda has been hiding out on Marco Island all this time. Who knew? His name is Michael Hennessey and he growls at people for three hours during the Marco Players production of "On Golden Pond."
"On Golden Pond," written by Ernest Thompson, paddled Broadway's waters in 1979 before hitting Hollywood with the blockbuster 1981 film led by Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn and Jane Fonda. The movie grossed $119M at the box office, was nominated for 10 Oscars and won three, including Henry Fonda's only Oscar for what would be his last performance.
The play spends one summer on a lake in Maine with Norman and Ethel Thayer (Hennessey and Marilyn Hilbert). Various characters drop in, from their estranged daughter and her step-son (Julia Byrne, Joey Byrne), her new boyfriend (the intense Brian Schlager) to the eccentric mailman (Kevin Moriarty), who runs his route by motorboat. Conversations, arguments, reconciliations and even some (off-stage) skinny-dipping play out under the Maine moon.
Battling audiences' memories of such a beloved movie is no mean feat, yet the Marco Players succeed by not trying to compete with iconic performances. The robust Hennessey, a former professional actor, towers above the confining cottage set; he communicates the character's increasing frailty with sidelong glances, puzzled stares and a razor-sharp grasp of the comic timing needed to make his cranky old man less of a cantankerous curmudgeon and more of an almost-lovable grump. The play simply would not work without him, although his power does threaten to overwhelm the rest of the cast at times.
If Hennessey is the yin of the relationship, Hilbert is the yang. Acting in the Hepburn role, her work is overshadowed to a degree by Hennessey's masterful performance but she carries the weight well. Hilbert sparkles at light comedy; when paired with the zany Moriarty (he lit up the stage for his two all-too-brief-scenes), their simple scenes over coffee and biscuits sing. Julia Byrne seems tentative as prodigal daughter Chelsea (the Jane Fonda role).
The Maine cabin set is quaint and homey - down to the duck decoys, fishing lures, exposed wooden beams and washed-up buoys hanging everywhere. The buff-colored walls seem sterile though; wood - even if expected - would add visual interest. Kristi Gordon's scenic painting transforms a backstage window into a tranquil lake scene and a moonlit vista. Uncomplicated scene changes - even for amateurs - feel interminable though.
The show demands no deep soul searching; it asks only for attendees to look inside and ponder where their lives are going. "On Golden Pond" wants audiences to think about relationships - mending them, starting them and treasuring them. The journey Hennessey takes his Norman on from frightful codger to artful dodger is a pleasure to watch. Don't miss as Moriarty nearly zips the show away from him in two brief scenes as a loopy lovelorn mailman.
I'd love to spend a summer "On Golden Pond." E-mail me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.
MORE ON GOLDEN POND LINKS
Background information on "On Golden Pond" the play wikipedia.org
Background information on "On Golden Pond" the film wikipedia.org