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Stewart McDermet as Norman and Debbi Reed-Savory as Ethel in "On Golden Pond."

WILLIAMSVILLE >> A summer cottage on a Maine lake inhabited by a cantankerous old man and his wise, spunky wife is the setting for this powerful drama of love, acceptance and aging.

Norman Thayer is a poster boy for how not to grow old gracefully. Deftly depicted by Stewart McDermet, the retired professor's sarcastic humor and frustration over his fading mind and weakening body make him difficult company for his long-suffering wife. Debbi Reed-Savory brings gentle humor and wisdom to the role of Ethel, memorably played by Katherine Hepburn in the 1981 film version.

The mood changes dramatically when Norman's somewhat estranged daughter Chelsea, her beau Bill and his son Billy arrive to celebrate the codger's 80th birthday. Sarah Vitale capably inhabits the complex role of Chelsea – a middle aged woman who has suffered a string of unsuccessful relationships. Attempting to live up to Norman's impossible expectations has damaged her emotionally. Billy's insouciant adolescent attitude towards cranky Norman adds another layer to the plot as does the old man's sarcastic take down of Chelsea's new love interest. Bill Sr., believably portrayed by Jeff Connor, finally realizes that he's being played by the old man after an amusing debate over sleeping accommodations for the unmarried couple.


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Once his dad and Chelsea depart for a European vacation, young Billy finds an unexpected companion in fishing, boating and discussing books with Chelsea's previously irascible dad. "I should've rented myself a 15-year old boy," Norman remarks after experiencing the joys of hanging out with the spirited lad. Alex Bashay skillfully represents Billy Junior's growth as he learns to communicate across a vast generation gap.

In the play's most searing moments, Chelsea and Norman struggle to understand, accept and even love one another after years of bitter misunderstandings and deep psychological wounds. It is here that actors McDermet, Reed-Savory and Vitale really show their mettle, depicting painful emotions with restraint and dignity.

Cris Parker-Jennings, well known to local audiences as an actor, has made an impressive directorial debut with this production. Producer Annie Landenberger launched the Rock River Players last summer with a fine version of the Thornton Wilder classic Our Town. Inspired by Landenberger's expansive vision of community theater, this company exudes a sense of joy in their shared endeavor. One telling detail is that the production staff ranges from young teens to senior citizens, all of whom work together with verve and precision. As she introduces the work in historic Williamsville Hall, the producer notes that "just as villagers came together for the first time in 1910 to entertain neighbors and travelers alike in this acoustical gem, so the Rock River Players do today."

"On Golden Pond" continues today through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., as well as Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for students and seniors. For more information write verbatim@svcable.net and to reserve in advance call 802-348-7156.

Rick Cowan is a Rockingham theater buff who occasionally appears in obscure roles in Main Street Arts productions and also serves on that organization's board.