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THEATER REVIEW 'ON GOLDEN POND' : Oldie but Goody : The two main characters in the Ojai production of this talky play are seniors; all but one of the rest are middle-aged.

February 07, 1991|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Not a whole lot happens during "On Golden Pond," the current production of the Ojai Art Center Theater. But thanks to some above-average writing, acting and direction, the show is far from dull.

The entire play takes place in one room on a lake-, make that, pond-side summer retreat in Maine, and only two characters share the stage for most of the time. People come and go, and there's some offstage fishing and skinny-dipping. But mainly everybody talks.

Moreover--here's where most people might think that the yawns would begin--the two main characters are seniors, and all but one of the others are well into middle age.

To use a reference doubtless familiar to the protagonists: " 't ain't so, Magee."

Norman Thayer is an irascible retired Delaware schoolteacher who's just about to turn 80. Ethel, his 69-year-old wife, refers to the couple, early on, as middle-aged. Norman is more realistic: "You're old," he scoffs. "I'm ancient." Three of the remaining four visitors to the cabin are in their late 40s.

Both elder Thayers are more youthful in a way than their rather strait-laced daughter, Chelsea, who's had to put up with her father's acerbic humor for entirely too long. She moved to California (or, as her father puts it, "Disneyland") years ago; hasn't seen her parents in nearly a decade, and is here this time, rather apprehensively, to introduce them to Bill, whom she intends to marry, and his 13-year-old son, Billy.

Also popping into the brew from time to time is Charlie, the local mailman and a onetime swain of Chelsea's.

With three generations and an old boyfriend at the cabin, there can't help but be some conflicts. And the consequences of aging, including the possibility of impending death, loom over the proceedings. But everything's wrapped up nicely at the end, and older members of the audience (a substantial percentage, to judge from Friday night's house) won't leave the theater depressed.

Bruce Winkworth and Charlotte Bronstein portray Norman and Ethel Thayer with commendable energy, wit equal to the script and the kind of chemistry that can't be taught by an acting coach.

The (slightly) younger players--Judy Hellinger as Chelsea, Jerry Armstrong as unsophisticated but sincere mailman Charlie Martin and John Blackmon as Chelsea's fiance--are fine, and when Blackmon's Bill Ray cuts loose, it's a bit of a surprise--he'd been so eager to please, up until then.

Shane Johnson merits special commendation for his reined-in portrayal of youngster Billy Ray, where many players of his age might be tempted to overact.

Tish Winkworth produced and directed; Elmer Bladow designed the comfortable-looking set decorated by D'Anitra Wiseman, Linda Harmon and Debra Hill, and Blackmon and David Johnson were responsible for the excellent lighting and sound.

With its sensitive portrayal of older people, "On Golden Pond" is a remarkable piece of material, all the more so considering that its author, Ernest Thompson, was only 30 when the play had its debut 12 years ago.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"On Golden Pond" plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 23 at the Ojai Art Center Theater, 113 S. Montgomery St. Tickets are $8, $6 for seniors and students. For reservations or information, call 646-0117 between noon and 4 p.m.

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