Don't go to see On Golden Pond at New Theatre Restaurant expecting to view a rehashing of the 1981 On Golden Pond movie, starring Henry Fonda and daughter Jane. (Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn won the Best Actor and Best Actress Academy Awards, respectively, for their roles in the film.)
Jane Fonda later admitted that the reason she wanted so much to produce the film (and bought the rights after seeing the stage version in LA) was to try to heal the rift in the difficult relationship she had always had with her dad. That relationship was portrayed with much more turbulence in the film than it is in director Dennis Hennessy's New Theatre Restaurant production.
While not exactly lighthearted at all times (Mike Farrell as the pessimistic Norman Thayer obsesses about death in nearly every scene), the quips come fast and furiously, making the messages in the show go down as easily as "a spoonful of sugar." Besides exploring an uneasy father-daughter connection, the play also spotlights the difficulties (including real health scares) faced by a couple in the twilight years of a long marriage, and the special bond forged by a youngster (Billy) and his aging "granddad" (Norman).
Although all the supporting actors in this production play their roles with impeccable comedic timing, Mike Farrell (best-known as B.J. Hunnicutt on M*A*S*H) and Dodie Brown completely dominate the show. Brown (Ethel) has a light within her that will never quit shining. She sparkles as she fairly dances across the stage, playing the lilting melody to Farrell's funereal accompaniment.
Many of the big-name stars that are the "draw" for New Theatre Restaurant's productions don't take on leading roles, but Mike Farrell is the many-layered linchpin that defines this show and holds it together. Although he plays Norman with cocksure deadpan wit on the surface, he also lets you look closer to see the vulnerable man trembling underneath. The fact that his wife recognizes his neediness, yet doesn't make a big deal of it (realizing that Norman would be aghast if she did), adds enough poignancy to make you want to cry, if it weren't for Norman's irascibility and penchant for needling his family in the guise of humor.
In short, Farrell and Brown portray the Thayers as a very human couple, and the supporting cast (while not given much to do) are deserving of kudos for adding more texture to the play. Craig Benton (Bill Ray) and Jennifer Mays (Chelsea Thayer Wayne) are always a pleasure to watch on local stages. The night I watched the show, Austin Zollar did a fine job portraying Billy Ray. (Raymond Forstater alternates in the role.) Possibly the most memorable performer in the show (aside from Farrell and Brown) is Matthew Rapport, playing Charlie Martin as the loveable clown and "local character" who is hiding heartache from unrequited love.
The imaginative set design (Gregory Hill) and lighting (Randy B. Winder) conspire to make the audience think they've stepped inside a rustic cabin in Maine for the summer.
Of course, what also makes an evening at New Theatre Restaurant so momentous is the meal. Executive Chef Mark Webster has put together a tantalizing selection of fresh choices (like mushroom risotto--Arborio rice simmered in beef stock with onions and sweet cream, finished with smoked mushrooms and Romano cheese) as well as some old favorites (like the ever-popular pan-seared beef shoulder tenderloins). Even though I'm not usually a cauliflower-eater (I find the taste too bland), the deep-fried parmesan-and-herb-encrusted cauliflower florets made me go back for seconds. (Jalapeno peppers were also added to the mix, but I didn't sample these, preferring the cheesiness of the concoction to stand on its own.)
And don't miss out on the show's special dessert offering, banana beignets, an especially delicious take on the famous New Orleans-style dessert. These beignets are loaded with fresh bananas and just a splash of banana liqueur, then covered with a generous portion of hot, fresh banana and caramel sauce, layered with just a hint of brandy. A dusting of powdered sugar and a scoop of Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream complete this divinely decadent treat.
On Golden Pond runs through March 31, 2013 at New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park, KS. Call 913-649-7469 or go to NewTheatre.com.