Idyllwild Actors Theatre presents Ernest Thompson’s “On Golden Pond,” the 1979 play made into an Academy Award-winning 1981 film starring Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn. The IAT, one of the Hill’s longest-running theatrical companies, presents its main-stage production at the end of this month, from Friday, July 29, through Sunday, July 31, outdoors on the garden stage behind Rainbow Inn.
Thompson has a close professional relationship with IAT founder and “On Golden Pond” director Suzanne Avalon. Thompson, an actor before becoming a playwright and screenwriter, directed and starred in his play “The Elixir” for IAT in 2008. In addition to Thompson, the IAT cast included Avalon, Jeri Greene, Christopher Pennock and Frank Siebke. Thompson also wrote “Political Suicide,” which Avalon directed for IAT in 2012.
The “On Golden Pond” story, familiar to many because of the success of the film, is a rare one. It centers on intertwined love relationships with an older couple at the core. Cantankerous 79-year-old retired University of Pennsylvania professor Norman Thayer Jr. and his wife Ethel visit their cabin on Golden Pond in Maine. The normally placid summer is interrupted by a visit from their daughter Chelsea, estranged from her father, who has not visited for more than eight years.
Old wounds open, anger flares, tears come and eventually, there is an end of summer, and perhaps a final summer, resolution.
In the play, Norman leaves Golden Pond at the end of the summer in which he celebrated his 80th birthday, uncertain if he will ever return. In a life-mirrors-fiction coincidence, Henry Fonda, who played Norman in the film, died in August 1982, the summer after the film was released. Fonda had received his only Best Actor Academy Award in March 1982.
The play has been translated into 30 languages, most recently into Arabic, and performed in 45 countries on six continents, largely because of the familiarity of the family dynamics that propel the play — the complex emotional interweavings of a wife living with and loving an often hard-to-love husband, a daughter who was not the “son” or success her father might have preferred, her fiancé and his young son she brings for a visit, uncertain how her new relationship would play out with her disapproving and judgmental father.
Dressed in sentiment, bristled with impatience and caustic exchanges, and ultimately touching and life-affirming, “On Golden Pond” stars Kathleen Walker, Marshall Smith, Jeri Greene, Jacob Teel, Chris Doshier and Kolten Darling.
“On Golden Pond” plays at 8 p.m. in the garden behind Rainbow Inn Friday, July 29, through Sunday, July 31. It is a fully staged production with lights, sets and costumes. Tickets are $18 and are available at the door or online at www.idyllwildactorstheatre.com. There is a reception each night before the performance at 7:30 p.m. “Enjoy theater under the stars,” urged Avalon.