Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
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As comfort-plays go, you can’t do much better than “On Golden Pond,” by Earnest Thompson. Written originally in 1979, it has been updated by the author several times since, for film and later productions, to keep pace with the shifts which have made the timeless places less so over the years. Yet, at its core this play is less about place than character, and a good production of the play focuses on the creation of people you can believe care about each other.
Given this essential factor, “On Golden Pond” as presented at the Covina Center for the Performing Arts is, indeed, a good production. The performers range from good to very good, and the feel of their interrelatedness is right. This sense of ensemble makes it possible for director Jeff Lowe to shift from a very representational setting to what he calls a “more stripped away” feel – something comparatively unusual with this particular piece.
The story has been a film, and on stage locally many times. Norman Thayer, a crusty retired professor, and his wife Ethel, both at the tail end of life, return for another summer to their well-worn cabin at a lake they have loved since their individual childhoods. There they are joined by their somewhat estranged daughter Chelsea, and her new companion Bill, who end up leaving Bill’s 13-year-old son Billy behind as they move on to Europe. The time proves transformative to Norman, who finds Billy an antidote to the evidence of age’s toll, and to Chelsea, as she comes to terms with her relationship with what she sees as a demanding and consistently displeased father.
Again, this really only works if both Norman and Ethel are not only believable as individual actors, but believable as a richly fond couple whose mutual love and respect has kept an outwardly frustrating marriage very much alive. Joe Parrish and Rosemary London do just that, giving an almost constant, subtle underscore to the brusk familiarity of their lines which make you understand how that relationship could have held on so well for so long.
Lisa Apostle handles the nervous Chelsea well, and John Catanzaro gives considerable humor – and another underscore of relational wisdom – to her beau. Tyler Campbell has a lovely time as the somewhat simple, earnest mailman who was Chelsea’s long-ago summer boyfriend. Most importantly, Jackson Capitano becomes quite convincing most of the time as Billy, and the chemistry between him and Parrish creates a significant factor of charm in the production. Capitano does need to occasionally slow his lines a bit to be sure we get all the humor in them, however.
Set Designer Dillon Nelson has provided the requested skeletal set. It works better than one expects, allowing for some of the show’s running “gags” – the screen door’ issues, the tendency for Norman to lock the door when his wife is outside – to work better than one would expect simply by being offstage. Sound designer Steven Humenski has managed to mesh a few bits of the film score in at just the right times, and of course the calls of the lake’s loons.
“On Golden Pond,” when done as well as this, is a peaceful thing. It is not a stunning new statement of life. It is not cynical or challenging. Rather, it is an homage to aging and relationship, and as such says things that few plays have said better. This production is certainly worth seeing, but you’ll have to be fast to catch it. Though it only opened on June 19, it will close on the 28th.
What: “On Golden Pond” When: through June 28, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday Where: Covina Center for the Performing Arts, 104 N Citrus Ave in Covina How Much: $15 – $25 Info: (626) 331-8133 ext. 1 or http://www.covinacenter.com
If one is going to see one of those rather cliche, tap-dancing musicals from the 30s, one does not expect depth. The reason to go is the dancing, the music, the comedy and the romance. So, that being true, why not consider embracing a musical from the late 1990s based on a film celebrating the eccentricities of the early 1980s in the same vein? If this appeals to you, then head on over to the Covina Center for the Performing Arts and their cheerful, lighthearted, often silly rendition of Matthew Sklar, Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy’s “The Wedding Singer.”
The production, under the direction of Wendy Friedman, proves just as well crafted as the show itself proves silly. The story pays homage to the 1998 movie: Robbie is the lead singer/performer in a band which has become known throughout New Jersey for a great wedding song, and thus a favorite at receptions. That’s great until his fiancé leaves him and his bitterness begins to infect his work. At the same time, Julia, who waits on people at a reception hall, becomes engaged to a boyfriend focused on finance who considers his new fiancé more as a trophy than a love interest. Can Robbie and Julia save each other?
Kyle Caldwell makes a highly entertaining Robbie – just over-the-top enough to make his struggles comic and his joys delightfully silly. He sings well, and can play the guitar enough to be convincing as a locally popular musician. Ryan Jones, as the band’s stereotypically randy bassist, and particularly Ricky Wagner as a veritable Boy George look-alike make entertaining counterpoint to Robbie’s angst, and prove equally musical.
Susanna Vaughan makes an appealingly mainstream sweet young thing, as Julia. Jackie Bianchi has an absolute blast as her dissolute cousin, and Jabriel Shelton gives Julia’s fiancé all the intensity and hubris one expects from a Wall Street up-and-comer. Also worthy of note are Susan E. Silver as various moms, and Christina Marie Harrell as Robbie’s dedicatedly romantic grandmother. In two brief, but memorable appearances, Taj Johnson rocks the house as Robbie’s self-focused ex-girl.
Still, this is a very silly show. Along with fine individual performances, what makes it all work is a solid ensemble of dancer/actors who create incidental character after character, and dance up a storm. Lindsay Martin’s lively and evocative choreography really comes alive in the hands of these performers, and music director Richard Seymour manages to balance the vocal talents of the entire company with the recorded soundtrack in such a way that one soon forgets one is listening to pre-fab music.
Despite one moment where the thing should look a bit more Vegas-like, Dillon Nelson’s facile set proves terrific at keeping the pacing flowing – a necessity in such an episodic tale. Costumer Mark Gamez has the era down, right to the period wedding veils. The look helps make the show a true success.
In short, don’t go for depth, but for the same kind of sheer fun one might find at a production of “42nd Street” go see “The Wedding Singer.” One note: there is the occasional scatological reference, so be cautious about young children. Other than that, it will prove a great way to have a good time in the theater without carrying any particular baggage away.
What: “The Wedding Singer” When: Through May 3, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: Covina Center for the Performing Arts, 104 N. Citrus Ave. in Covina How Much: $20-$30 Info: (626) 331-8133, ext. 1 or http://www.covinacenter.com