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On Golden Pond

When playwright Ernest Thompson was growing up, he and his family summered at a lakefront cabin in Maine. That special place was the inspiration for On Golden Pond, his extraordinarily popular, bittersweet play about love and aging, recrimination and reconciliation. Since its Broadway premiere in 1979, the play has been seen in more than 40 countries, and performed in some 30 languages. On Golden Pond opens at Palm Beach Dramaworks on February 2 and continues through February 25, with specially priced previews on January 31 and February 1.

This funny and moving play tells the story of Norman and Ethel Thayer, who are spending their forty-eighth summer at their tranquil home on Golden Pond. Norman is cantankerous, on the cusp of 80, and alarmed by his faltering memory. Ethel is a decade younger and attuned to his every need; she sees his flaws but loves him unconditionally. Their daughter, Chelsea, upends their idyllic summer when she arrives with her fiancé, his teenage son, and lots of emotional baggage, ultimately confronting her father about their fraught relationship.

On Golden Pond is directed by Paul Stancato and features Pat Bowie as Ethel; John Felix as Norman (PBD debut); Karen Stephens as Chelsea; Jim Ballard as Bill Ray, Chelsea’s fiancé; Paul Tei as Charlie, a local who has long loved Chelsea; and Casey Butler as Billy Ray, Bill’s son. Scenic design is by Bill Clark (PBD debut), costume design is by Brian O’Keefe, lighting design is by Donald Edmund Thomas, and sound design is by Brad Pawlak.

On Golden Pond was first produced Off-Broadway by The Hudson Guild Theatre in 1978, with Tom Aldredge and Frances Sternhagen as Norman and Ethel. They again played those roles when the show opened on Broadway on February 28, 1979, with Barbara Andres portraying Chelsea. The play was revived on Broadway in 2005, with James Earl Jones as Norman, Leslie Uggams as Ethel, and Linda Powell as Chelsea. There was also a 2001 television adaptation that was broadcast live, which was directed by the playwright and featured Christopher Plummer, Julie Andrews, and Glenne Headly.
Of course, the best-known version is the 1981 film, adapted by Thompson and directed by Mark Rydell. It starred Katharine Hepburn as Ethel, and Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda playing what seemed to be a screen version of their own troubled father-daughter relationship. Thompson, Hepburn, and Henry Fonda won Academy Awards. It was Fonda’s only Oscar; he died five months after receiving it. On Golden Pond was the second highest grossing film of the year, finishing behind Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Palm Beach Dramaworks is a non-profit, professional theatre and is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the South Florida Theatre League, Florida Professional Theatres Association, and the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County.

Evening performances of On Golden Pond are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30PM, Friday and Saturday at 8PM, and select Sundays at 7PM. Matinee performances are on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2PM. Post-performance discussions follow Wednesday matinee and Sunday evening performances. Individual tickets are $75, with specially priced preview tickets at $55 and Opening Night tickets at $90. Student tickets are available for $15, and Pay Your Age tickets are available for those 18-40. Tickets for educators are half price with proper ID (other restrictions apply). Group rates for 20 or more and discounted season subscriptions are also available.

The Don & Ann Brown Theatre is located in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach, at 201 Clematis Street. For ticket information contact the box office at (561) 514-4042, or visit