A story in last week's Virginia Weekly incorrectly identified the director of the Port City Players production of "On Golden Pond." The director is Adriana Hardy.
My, how the list of sure bets has grown. To yesterday's diminutive number of reliables -- death and taxes -- we can add inflation, M*A*S*H reruns and now, Ernest Thompson's play, "On Golden Pond."
Thompson, an actor who took his training at The American University, Catholic University and the University of Maryland, wrote a piece two years back that was guaranteed to warm the hearts of those most able to afford theater tickets -- the over 50 crowd and dentists.
Now, after tryouts in Washington and a Broadway triumph, Thompson's work has been converted into a three-star movie starring Henry Fonda as the "irascible but lovable" senior citizen, Katherine Hepburn as the "smiling wife who understands" and (smack your lips, Middle America) Jane Fonda as their "belligerent-turned-contrite" daughter.
Those of you with whetted appetities can try out a local version of "On Golden Pond" at the Port City Playhouse in Alexandria.
The playhouse nabbed Northern Virginia's biggest acting asset, Pete Holm, for the leading role of Eugene Thayer, a retired teacher and full-time old coot. Eugene, we are immediately told, is 79-turning-80, the first of many bits of numerical information with which the play is dotted.
The play opens on Eugene and his long-suffering wife, Ethel (age 69), spending their (48th) summer at an authentically decrepit house (designed for Port City by Scott Callandar) on Golden Pond in Maine. Here, Eugene reads books, harasses the neighbors and contemplates the nearness of death and the inadequacies of his only child.
Ethel, in turn, does all the work (cheerfully, of course), soothes her husband's victims and invites their daughter to Eugene's 80th birthday.
Enter daughter Chelsea, 42 and barren, who knows "how to be an adult everywhere but here on Golden Pond," the result, we are told, of her father's ability over the years to sap her self-confidence. Chelsea brings along as a prop Bill Ray (45), a dentist who wears a gold chain and talks in California-speak about his "kinetic relationship" with Chelsea.
Bill's first bit of input, and one that completely derailed this viewer's train of thought, is to stick Billy with the Thayers for a month while he and Chelsea go off to Europe. This follows his telling everyone that he has seen first-hand the results of being a child in Eugene Thayer's household, having "heard all about you" from Chelsea, the person most poisoned by Thayer's harassment.
The audience is granted an intermission at this point to puzzle over Bill's parenting techiques and pray for Billy's welfare -- prayers that work, apparently, because the next act finds the kid and the old man getting along fine.
Eugene teaches Billy to read decent books and catch fish.In exchange, Billy does all the work (cheerfully, of course) and teaches Eugene California-speak.
Reenter Chelsea, still 42 but married to dentist Bill a fact that "settles her down," says her mother. Then comes the speech all America has been waiting to hear Jane Fonda give.
After all that abuse from her father, after years of misunderstandings, of cross words, no words and worse words, Chelsea stands right up and says she's sorry for "carrying a chip on my shoulder." It was so naughty of her to have resented her father's meanness, she realizes, and from here on they will try to be friends.
And he, model of generosity, explains that the reason behind all the trauma was simple: "We don't like each other very much."
Poisonous plot-line aside, the play is fairly well-written, with funny lines and characters that ring a lot truer than their actions would have you believe. a
A big chunk of that authenticity, of course, is due to the Port City Players, a cast practically devoid of the amateur trappings of community theater.
Louise Bloom as Ethel Thayer is so realistically the educated-but-not-wealthy housewife that you could almost write her biography. Ellen Oerter as Chelsea manages to look self-conscious without looking self-conscious about it.
And high marks go to Steve O'Connor, a local eighth grader from Hayfield Secondary School, who, as Billy, makes a believable eighth grader on-stage.
Highest marks of all go to Pete Holm as Eugene Thayer. Holm, of course, is the man who made irascibility a science this season in the Springfield Community Theatre's "Oldest Living Graduate."
"On Golden Pond," by Ernest Thompson, directed by Thomas I. Miller for the Port City Playhouse; 8 p.m. July 11-13 at Minnie Howard Middle School Auditorium, 3801 W. Braddock Rd., Alexandria. Admission is $5 for adults, $3.50 for students and senior citizens. Discounts given for reservations; call 549-8592.