Maui residents are truly blessed for multiple reasons. One of them is an emerging artists' Mecca. Whether it's the growing film industry, the hundreds of artists and galleries, home-grown musicians like Anuhea, world-premiere plays and a bustling live theater scene one would be hard pressed to finds a community that is so small yet possesses so much artistic talent.
"On Golden Pond" is never going to pack the houses like "Grease" and "South Pacific," but I highly encourage everyone to see this touching and funny production. Steven Dascoulias has constructed the finest dramatic production Maui has seen since ProArts' "Driving Miss Daisy." Impeccable casting and an equally awe-inspiring set by Caro Walker make "Pond" must-see theater. Bill Love as Norman Thayer is something akin to seeing a master actor presenting all those little things you can't learn in an acting class. His Norman is uniquely his, yet remains true to the nature of Ernest Thompson's intentions. His comic delivery is very strong and you truly believe he's an "old poop." Yet as awesome as Love's performance is, Ann Marie Wilder's portrayal of Ethel is even more amazing. Wilder's choice's to show a dash of pain now and again, while always remaining upbeat, is quite a sight to see. She conveys a great deal of hurt, but Ethel's lines can't express that throughout most of the play.
A ticket to see the two perform costs much less than an acting class and the opportunity to watch two seasoned actors perform serious theater is at the least rare on Maui.
Marie Wilder and Nathan Sullivan “On Golden Pond”.
JACK GRACE photo
What makes "Pond" exceptional, in addition to Love and Wilder, is that the supporting cast is just as strong. Ute Finch as daughter Chelsea Thayer capture all the nuances and unpleasant characteristic to keep the small family dysfunctional, but also brings a vulnerability warranting sympathy from the audience, the cast of characters, and even from "poopy" Norman in the end. Brian Connolly has quietly become one of the most versatile actors on Maui. His fine portrayal of Billy Ray, though a small role, is quintessential in establishing that Norman can be beaten at his own game.
Mark Collmer as Charlie the mailman offers an equally powerful performance. One of the play's most touching moments is Charlie's reminiscence of bygone days and his puppy love relationship with Chelsea so many summers ago on Golden Pond. Nathan Sullivan as Billy Jr. impressively holds his own surrounded by five actors with 30 plus years of experience each. In many ways, Billy, Jr. saves the family and his scenes are just as memorable as those of his older counterparts.
My few critiques of "Pond" are that I believe the changes Thompson made for the film adaptation were wise ones. There is a slightly darker quality to the screenplay. The stage play has Billy Jr. and Norman bonding much faster, and Norman's brush with death was much graver in the film adding substantial force to the ending. Perhaps the cast plays the laughs a bit too much, glossing over the more serious "death knocking on the door," Norman's intimidating nature and his Alzheimer's moments, but regardless "Pond" is still Maui theater at its best.
Once or twice a year a show just clicks; in the case of "Pond" and "Ahi" they're just happening at the same time this year. It may be out of your comfort zone to watch dysfunctional families bicker, yell, cry, and laugh in a very real and slightly painful way. Neither play is going to set box office records but MAPA and Maui OnStage have set a standard this month and delivered productions on par with Mainland regional theater.
- Michael Pulliam
* "On Golden Pond" by Ernest Thompson at the Historic Iao Theater continues through May 6. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $40 and $22. Dinner packages available with Cafe O'Lei and Bistro Casanova. For reservations or more information call 242-6969 or visit mauionstage.com.