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Coach House’s ‘On Golden Pond’ ‘magic’

11/28/2013 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Dede Klein and Richard Figge star in Coach House Theatre’s “On Golden Pond.”
Photo: Jerry Mirman
WEST AKRON — When everything comes together on the stage, the audience experiences theatrical magic. That magic happens in Coach House Theatre’s production of “On Golden Pond.”

The story concerns Norman (Richard Figge) and Ethel (Dede Klein), who have returned to their summer cottage on Golden Pond. Norman is in his 80s and Ethel is not far behind in age. They plan to spend the summer picking berries, fishing and playing board games. This idyllic summer is interrupted by a visit from their daughter, Chelsea (Sarah Lyon), her friend Bill (Scott Shriner) and his teenage son, Billy (Manny Liotta).

Norman is the definitive curmudgeon. His sharp words and attitudes have driven everyone away from him, including Chelsea. Times have changed and Norman needs to make amends while he still has time. Chelsea and Bill leave for a vacation in Europe and leave Billy with Norman and Ethel. As if a miracle, Norman and Billy bond by fishing and reading the classics. To Norman’s delight, Billy teaches him the current slang.

Director Nancy Cates keeps the performances in a single key. The actors move forward to the inevitable end for his/her character. This harmony holds the members of the audience who seem to be truly involved in the change in Norman and the evolution of each of the other characters.

Set designer Terry Burgler created an appropriate New England cottage for Ethel and Norman. Sound designer Jack Herman made sure the loons called to Ethel on cue.

Playwright Ernest Thompson wrote a tight script that is emotionally moving. Thompson received the Academy Award for the script for the movie “On Golden Pond.” In truth, the script is sentimental and, at times, maudlin. However, the cast and director lift the production above the flaws in the script.

Figge makes Norman both obnoxious and lovable. Figge’s Norman plays games with people. Norman smiles as if he knows he is having fun with people and, yet, the targets of his jabs take him seriously. Figge is a splendid actor. I wish we saw him in more local productions.

Klein creates a loving Ethel. All of us could wish to have this Ethel as our mother or grandmother or a good friend. Yet, she has a firm reign on Norman. Klein makes Ethel strong and kind. We quickly understand why her daughter Chelsea rushes to hug her so often.

Lyon and Shriner play pivotal characters. They disturb the calm of Golden Pond and, yet, bring affection to that lake cottage.

Liotta is a talented teenage actor. He has a strong speaking voice and the ability to play for the laugh. It’s a pleasure to watch him return Norman’s wisecracks. Liotta has a gift for timing. I would like to see him in a comedy.

In summary, “On Golden Pond” is a magical evening in the theater because of a strong cast, a knowledgeable director and a sentimental script.

“On Golden Pond” runs through Dec. 15. Note the theater will not be open on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28. For ticket information, call 330-434-7741.

David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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