I had never been to Yellow Tree Theatre in Osseo. But the chance to see veteran actors, the husband-and-wife team of Jon Cranney and Katherine Ferrand, work together for the first time in over 20 years proved irresistible. They play the husband and wife leads in “On Golden Pond,” under Cranney’s direction.
I wasn’t disappointed. The production was so good that it almost made me forget how much I dislike the show.
I find Ernest Thompson’s 1979 play, also the basis of the 1981 film, to be emotionally manipulative and overly sentimental. It’s a lovely portrait of an aging couple, Norman and Ethel Thayer, spending their 48th summer at the their summer home on Golden Pond. But when it tries to inject drama, adding their estranged daughter, Chelsea, it’s less successful. The play doesn’t earn the reconciliation.
“On Golden Pond’s” popularity comes, in large part, from its being a great vehicle for two older actors. And at Yellow Tree, these two strong performances overcome the play’s weaknesses.
Cranney successfully directs himself in one of the best performances of Norman that I’ve seen. He was every bit as morbid and cantankerous as the script demands, but he brought a degree of charm and sweetness to the role that made the annoying character funny and completely likable.
Ferrand delivered the play’s most nuanced performance. She was more than just Cranney’s straight person. Her Ethel was endearingly flighty, while being an earth-mother figure, spreading love and compassion. She put up with Norman with a smile, but had the backbone to stand up to him.
They share a natural intimacy that came across on stage. They gave the couple a richer reality than the play actually deserves.
Melanie Wehrmacher gave a strong performance as Chelsea, but was sabotaged by the script. She movingly portrayed the character’s anger and resentment, even if it came out of nowhere.
As director, Cranney made good use of the theater’s intimate space. He kept the action moving, investing the story with real emotion, but never allowing the sentimentality to become mawkish.
Osseo is less than 25 minutes from south Minneapolis. And it’s well worth the drive to take in the wonderful work of these two veteran actors.
William Randall Beard writes about theater and music.