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'On Golden Pond': In the twilight of their years

The conflicts between an estranged father and daughter, and difficulties faced by a couple in the twilight of their marriage set the stage for the classic "On Golden Pond."...

Ethel (Margaret Barnhart) tries to get Norman (Pat Barnhart) to take his nitroglycerin pills for a possible heart attack in a scene from "On Golden Pond." (Linda Sailer/ The Dickinson Press)
Ethel (Margaret Barnhart) tries to get Norman (Pat Barnhart) to take his nitroglycerin pills for a possible heart attack in a scene from "On Golden Pond." (Linda Sailer/ The Dickinson Press)

The conflicts between an estranged father and daughter, and difficulties faced by a couple in the twilight of their marriage set the stage for the classic "On Golden Pond."

The story is being presented as the first theatrical production in the newly remodeled Belfield Theater & Performance Center.

"It's a beautiful play, almost better than the movie," Director Michael R. Stevenson said. "It doesn't go quite so deep into the characters like a movie can. They're stuck in the house, and you won't see the scene of them falling off the boat in the middle of the lake."

Natalie Muruato of Belfield spearheaded the theater renovation project.

"We felt this was the next avenue to pursue," she said. "We installed live lighting about two weeks ago, and we'll install live sound this weekend."

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The play is another production of the North Dakota Cowboy Association and Special Cowboy Moments. Performances are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Beverages will be served an hour prior to the performances.

"On Golden Pond" is best recognized as an American drama film produced in 1981 starring Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda. It went on to win three Oscars.

In both the play and the film, the cantankerous Norman Thayer and his wife, Ethel, continue their long tradition of spending summers at their New England cottage on the shores of Golden Pond. As they resettle into their summer home, Norman is unable to recognize several family photographs and is obsessed with death and growing old. They are visited by their daughter, Chelsea, who is somewhat estranged from her father. She introduces her parents to her fiance, Bill, and his teenage son, Billy, while on their way to Europe.

Norman, more cynical than usual due to the approach of his 80th birthday and heart palpitations, agrees to allow Billy to stay while Chelsea and Bill are away. At first, Billy resents Norman's brusque manner, but eventually comes to enjoy their Golden Pond fishing adventures together. Chelsea returns to see the change in her father's demeanor, and attempts to repair their long-strained relationship before it's too late.

The cast includes six local actors-Pat Barnhart as Norman Thayer, Margaret Barnhart as Ethel Thayer, Rachel Andrus as Chelsea Thayer, Jesse Kilwein as Bill Ray, Ethan Haynes as Billy Ray, and Jason Sipma as Charlie. Jackie Hope is assistant director.

"I have a wonderful cast," Stevenson said. "They work so well together. Pat and Margaret come to the roles naturally-it's like watching them every day of their lives."

Stevenson, the choral and drama director at Dickinson State University, built the set at DHS and will transport it to Belfield this week.

"I pulled everything I needed from the backstage and discovered flats 15 to 20 years old," he said.

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Andrus, a DHS senior, was familiar with the movie but didn't know a theatrical version had been written.

"My character, Chelsea, definitely has a lot of negative emotions toward her father, especially the way she was raised," Andrus said. "But there's sort of a similarity between her and Norman that comes through in a few gentle barbs she makes toward her boyfriend."

Margaret Barnhart describes Ethel as kind of a peacemaker between Norman and Chelsea.

"She wants Norman to realize he still has a life to live even though he's 80 years old and is obsessed with dying," she said. "It makes you think. It makes you feel."

Pat Barnhart wanted to do the play after he read the script. He is having fun playing cantankerous retired professor and said that he can relate to Norman.

As longtime actors, the Barnharts are looking forward to performing in the theater.

"It's a really beautiful place," Margaret Barnhart said. "They've done a remarkable job. It's just gorgeous."

Haynes, who is a freshman at DHS, has been in theater since the sixth grade.

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"Mr. Stevenson asked me to be in it and I decided why not. It's a nice bunch of close friends," he said. "I like how you can pretend to be someone else and not be yourself all the time. For my character, I can be myself, except a little bit more evil."

Related Topics: DICKINSONTHEATER
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