Theater Review: Arctic Playhouse provides sweet, familiar 'On Golden Pond' – The Providence Journal

It’s everyman’s life and that’s sometimes the perfect show because it’s easy to understand and embrace.

WEST WARWICK, R.I. — There is so much turmoil, disagreement and disarray in the world that escaping into two hours of a simple and sweet love story can be a decadent treat.

The Arctic Playhouse in West Warwick is offering such a treat with its traditional delivery of Ernest Thompson’s play “On Golden Pond,” a story made famous by the 1981 film starring Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn.

Norman and Ethel are an elderly couple visiting their beloved Maine retreat on Golden Pond, where the broken screen door isn’t the only thing needing attention. Norman’s memory is failing and his cranky manner has caused lifelong friction between him and his daughter Chelsea.

Chelsea, who tells her parents she spent a lifetime trying to please her father, arrives for a visit to introduce her new fiancé and his young son Billy. Despite the fact that Norman initially rebuffs the boy, Billy is left for an extended visit so Chelsea and her fiancé can have some alone time.

Happily, however, Norman softens as the play goes on and manages to form a tender bond with the young boy as they go for daily fishing jaunts. They share jokes and a new jive handshake. The end of the season is particularly bittersweet because of this transformation and a sudden emergency facing the family.

Again, the story is simple and sweet, familiar and believable. It’s everyman’s life and that’s sometimes the perfect show because it’s easy to understand and embrace.

Director Sandy Cerel, who doubles as Ethel in the production, does Thompson’s story justice with solid casting and enjoyable, if simplified, staging. Cerel does a fine job coaching her actors, particularly through the scenes containing lighthearted, comedic moments that require fast thinking on the part of the actors and perfected positioning for all in order to keep them funny and not hokey. Thankfully, Cerel’s creativity works wonderfully.

Cerel is also gentle and loving as Ethel, opposite Terry Simpson as the curmudgeon Norman. He is fittingly grumpy and then warm and even giddy with his pal Billy. Perhaps, however, it is Ethan Clarke whose performance as Billy steals the show. His delivery is sharp and his facial expressions and body language help him produce a well-rounded character who is delightful to experience.

“On Golden Pond” is just what we need — a short escape that reminds us what is important in this world.

— Susan McDonald is a regular contributor to The Providence Journal. She can be reached at

If you go …

What: “On Golden Pond”

When: 8 p.m. Oct. 6-7, 2 p.m. Oct. 8; 8 p.m. Oct. 12, 14

Where: The Arctic Playhouse, 117 Washington St., West Warwick

Tickets: $13 online, $18 at the door

Information: (401) 573-3443,


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