An upbeat `Golden Pond' from Bowie performers

Unlike film, play puts focus on love of couple

May 11, 2000|By Mary Johnson | By Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bowie Community Theatre's scheduling switch from "Brighton Beach" to "On Golden Pond" sounds more like a change in a vacation destination than a last-minute change in programming.

When BCT president and show director Craig Allen Mummey learned that the rights for Neil Simon's play "Brighton Beach Memoirs" had become unavailable, he chose another vehicle for his actors in Ernest Thompson's "On Golden Pond." Not only did Mummey make a commitment to the new vehicle, he did it so completely that he began painting floorboard patterns on the stage floor.

In 1998, Mummey had directed the same play for Colonial Players, and perhaps that experience enabled him to make an even stronger dramatic statement for Bowie.

In Colonial's upbeat version, Mummey concentrated on the affection between the couple. The Bowie version seems even more focused on the enduring love between the elderly couple, with little emphasis on the middle-aged daughter Chelsea's estrangement from her ailing father.

Most of us know that "On Golden Pond" was an Oscar-winning 1981 film starring Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda and Katherine Hepburn. The dysfunctional relationship between the father and daughter seemed to dominate the film.

Maybe the film was as funny as these later stage productions, or maybe in the nearly 20 intervening years I've gone from identifying with Jane to Katherine.

My maturity helps me better appreciate the acerbic wit of 80-year-old Norman Thayer Jr. and the affectionate tolerance of his wife, Ethel.

Kurt Dornheim seems to have assumed Norman Thayer's identity - from body language to his adroit comic delivery of every witty line, and his ready bolstering of the boy Billy. From his timorous reaching out to his daughter to his affectionate tolerance of his wife Ethel, Dornheim is Norman.

Mary Tsakis is equally at home in the role of Ethel, able to convey a mixture of fierce protectiveness and exasperation toward Norman. She acts the perfect foil, her bantering with Norman so skilled and well-timed that the two actors seem perfectly paired. Tsakis' switch from kidder to protector at the first indication of Norman's vulnerability represents acting of the highest caliber.

Joanne Bauer gives a multidimensional portrayal of the Thayers' 42-year-old daughter Chelsea, who manages to be grown-up until she is at her parents' home. Bauer brings both the frustration and tentative longing for a relationship with her father to the role of Chelsea.

In the role of Charlie the mailman, Bowie is fortunate to have Harry Burgess re-create the role he played brilliantly for Colonial Players. His New England accent, enduring affection for Chelsea and good-natured tolerance of Harry add greatly to the play.

Last seen as the despicable John Wheeler in BCT's "Night Watch," Michael Dunlop is cast as Chelsea's likeable suitor Bill Ray. Wheeler does well in his dueling scene with Norman, knowing exactly when to pause for highest comic effect as he inquires about his sleeping accommodations. Playing his 13-year-old son Billy is Joseph Baker, who holds his own with his fellow actors.

"On Golden Pond" continues at Bowie Community Theatre in Whitemarsh Park through next weekend. Information: 301-805- 0219.

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