By Diana Nollen/ SourceMedia
AMANA — The Old Creamery Theatre is opening its 41st season with a completely satisfying theatrical experience. “On Golden Pond” is the reason the term “dramedy” was born.
The show, which opened Thursday (5/3/12) on the professional troupe’s main stage in Amana, is a perfectly paced blend of laughter and tears. Since no family is perfect, I’m guessing everyone can identify with at least part of the turmoil the Thayers face during a bittersweet summer in their beloved lake house in Maine.
Crusty old patriarch Norman (Tom Milligan) zings everyone with the sharpest barbs. His long-suffering wife, Ethel (Kay Francis), calls his bluff when they’re alone, but turns into peacekeeper when their estranged daughter, Chelsea (Deborah Kennedy), stops for a brief, tense visit to introduce her parents to her fiance, Bill (Jeff Haffner), and his tough-talking teenage son, Billy Jr. (double-cast with Brennan Urbi of Cedar Rapids and Ellis Fontana of Iowa City).
So much anguish roils beneath the surface, just waiting to bubble and bite when anyone casts out the least little bait. But it’s that kind of fishing that picks at old, festering wounds, bringing the confrontations that allow a measure of healing to begin.
Milligan strikes the right balance for Norman, a retired English professor who is constantly challenging and grading everyone who steps into the classroom of his life. He loves nothing better than toying with his prey, dangling just enough charm to lure them in, then saying the most horrible things to push them away. He’s been doing that to everyone but Ethel, who is watching and denying her husband’s slow fade into twilight. Francis plays this inner conflict with aplomb.
The whole picture is wrapped in nostalgia tinged with poignancy and decline through the scenery, music and lighting enhancing every shifting mood.
While it’s painful to watch the way Norman treats his daughter and her fiance, the payoff comes in the way Norman receives as much as he gives to young Billy, played beautifully by Urbi in Thursday’s opening performance. Eddie Skaggs as mailman Charlie — still pining for Chelsea — offers sweet comic relief with his goofy giggle.
Laughter — and a few gasps — rippled and spread through the 157 audience members. The lovely thing about this show, is that despite the heartache that unfolds over two hours, you do leave with a smile.
What: “On Golden Pond”
Where: Old Creamery Theatre, 39 38th Ave., Amana
When: Through May 27; 3 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday
Tickets: $17.50 and $27, at 1-(800) 352-6262 or Oldcreamery.com