Playhouse brings love story ‘On Golden Pond’ to life

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Sara Van Cleve
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As Norman and Ethel Thayer, the characters of “On Golden Pond,” return to their summer home for the 48th year, the actors portraying them are celebrating a similar milestone.

“On Golden Pond,” a play by Ernest Thompson, debuted in 1979 and Charles Ault, who plays Norman, originally played the character in 1982 when he was in his 30s.

Now, as he reprises the role for the fourth time, and his wife Donna taking on the role of Ethel for the second time, the couple has found a new meaning in it.

“It’s significant for Donna and I because we are celebrating out 48th year of marriage and they’ve been going to Golden Pond for 48 years,” Charles Ault said. “I was 36 when I first played Norman and I had to age myself and gray my hair. Now I’m just about the right age.”

Parts of the play really hit home, Charles said, as the couple, and their daughter, face issues many people face as they age.

The Thayers’ daughter, Chelsea, played by Ashley Ricklefs, visits her parents for the first time in eight years with her boyfriend, Bill, and his 13-year-old son, Billy, in tow.

Billy stays with Norman and Ethel for the summer and Norman really takes a liking to Billy.

“It’s like a father-son experience,” said Andrew Miller, the 14-year-old actor who plays Billy. “Billy hangs out with Norman. He speaks like him a bit and grows a trust with him. As they get closer, he becomes like a son for him and reminds him of when Chelsea was a kid.”

Chelsea and Norman have a strained relationship that can be seen from the moment she walks into the house on Golden Pond.

Chelsea calls her mother Ethel, “Mommy,” and Norman she simply calls “Norman.” As the character tells Bill, “I am her father, not her daddy.”

Though the father and daughter bond is strained at the beginning, the two find a way to mend their relationship — in their own unique way.

“It’s really moving if people take from it and look at their own life,” Ricklefs said. “The message is life is short and you shouldn’t forget to reconcile relationships with people. I think the take away is that if you feel it’s difficult to communicate with someone, it’ can be equally as hard for people to communicate to you.”

Overall, the play is all about love in different forms, Charles said, which makes it relatable to anyone.

And as Norman says to the operator at the beginning of the play, “Golden Pond is very near to where you are.”

The Festival Playhouse, 5665 Olde Wadsworth Blvd., is showing “On Golden Pond” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 5, 12 and 19; at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 6, 13 and 20; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 7 and 14.

Tickets are $17 for Friday and Saturday performances and $15 for Sunday performances. Tickets can be purchased at www.festivalplayhouse.com.