`Golden Pond' cast pulls it together

The actors overcome the loss of the leading lady

Stage: theater, music, dance

October 07, 2004|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,SUN STAFF

When disaster strikes members of a tight stage cast near the end of rehearsals, they either focus or fall apart.

The cast of the Kennedy Center's On Golden Pond, which opened last weekend, lost its leading lady during the last week of rehearsals. Diahann Carroll, who was to play the mother, Ethel, bowed out last minute because of back injuries. There was a two-day period of uncertainty, and then Leslie Uggams stepped into the role, and the show went on.

"We've not had time to panic, because we were too busy working," said Linda Powell, who plays Ethel's daughter, Chelsea. "It's actually been an amazing experience to see everybody pull it together."

Powell said the cast is still technically rehearsing - now it's just in front of people. She knows the rhythms are going to keep changing as cast members adjusts to the change, but she is sure they won't miss a beat.

"I think the show holds together really well, and it's just going to get better as we know each other better and we start to gel," Powell said.

Set in a New England cottage, On Golden Pond focuses on retired professor Norman (James Earl Jones) and wife Ethel's relationship with members of their family. Their daughter, Chelsea, drops off her boyfriend's son to stay with them while she travels in Europe. When Chelsea gets back, she finds Norman being a better father for the boy than he was for her.

At this point in her life, Powell cannot directly relate to Chelsea's circumstance, but there was a time when the two women shared the same feelings about their parents and the world.

"Chelsea in a way is the 14-year-old part of me," Powell said. "She has something that people go through in adolescence that she never quite made that leap of opening her eyes and seeing the people around her as three-dimensional people instead of just figures in her life."

Powell's father is Secretary of State Colin Powell. Every reporter who interviews her about her plays inevitably asks her questions about her father. "It doesn't really affect as much as you think," she said.

Powell can remember spending time in Washington as a child and watching plays at the Kennedy Center. Back then, the idea of performing on that stage was little more than a daydream for Powell. She is no stranger to area stages, having played Ruth Younger in Center Stage's 2001 production of A Raisin in the Sun, and she also appeared in its 1997 production of Seven Guitars.

On Golden Pond is her first performance at the Kennedy Center, and she said the experience has been amazing. It has given her the chance to learn from veteran actors such as Jones, whom she especially admires.

"He's a prince," she said. "It's amazing to work with him, and it's amazing to get to know him as a person. He's all that."

It is said that Jones' booming voice is so powerful that if you put your hand on his chest when he speaks, your body rumbles.

"I haven't tried that, but I think I might do it today," Powell said. "He'll look at me like I'm crazy."

Working with this cast was the main reason Powell auditioned for the role of Chelsea. "When I heard that they were doing this, I definitely wanted to get an audition, and I wanted to do my best at that audition," she said.

"On Golden Pond" plays at the Kennedy Center until Oct. 17. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $25-78. Call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.

For more theater, classical music and dance events, see Page 35.

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