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A Guiding Light and Progeny

This review by Joan Crespi was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 5, 1999. All rights reserved.

Move over, Barrymores. Another theatrical dynasty may

be forthcoming and it’s coming into public focus in a most appropriate

play.

"On Golden Pond," a tender comedy about an elderly, long-married,

deeply loving couple and the touching closeness that the husband develops

with his newly acquired adolescent "grandson" from a childless

daughter, plays at Off-Broadstreet Theater through Saturday, May 29.

With the boy as catalyst, the husband-father-grandfather ceases dwelling

on death and faces a revived life.

The 1978 play by Ernest Thompson is an intergenerational work, with

a father, daughter, and eventual grandson, and even an intergenerational

inspiration: the playwright’s own grandparents settled beside a lovely

lake in Maine.

A 1981 movie "On Golden Pond," starring the frail Henry Fonda

and shaky Katharine Hepburn highlighted an exquisite mood: golden

sunlight on the pond with the mournful cry of loons.

The play focuses on the words, not mood, so it’s much funnier than

the movie. In the play the pond isn’t seen: both acts are set in the

Thayers’ living room in their summer house in Maine. Off-Broadstreet

produced the play once previously, 13 years ago. The new production,

directed by Robert Thick, retains only one element of the old, for

good luck: the screen door. More significantly, it boasts that budding

theater dynasty.

Off-Broadstreet’s production showcases three generations of actors

from a single family. Karl Light, 73, outstanding as Norman Thayer,

has headed his own Princeton real estate agency for 40 years. His

daughter Derry Light Wills, 47, who plays Chelsea Thayer Wayne, is

married to lawyer Robert Wills and teaches music and chorus at the

Princeton Montessori School. Playing Billy Ray is Derry’s son, Caleb

Light-Wills, 12, a student at Princeton Montessori School.

How is it when three members of one family act together? Bruised egos?

Resentments? We asked all three, and each said, "It’s fun!"

Karl Light summed up the sentiment when he said, "I love it! It’s

just such a pleasure to watch my offspring blooming like this!"

Karl and Derry had acted together in PJ&B’s production of "My

Fair Lady" and brought down the house when Derry (Eliza) attacks

Karl (Higgins) with the line, "You’d think you was me father!"

The two also acted together in other plays, but this is the first

time all three generations have shared one stage.

Karl, born in Trenton, spent his first 17 years there. His father

owned a furniture store; his mother was a housewife. He went to Princeton,

majored in English, spent three years in the army, returned and graduated

as a member of the Class of 1947. His successful real estate agency

made it possible for him to become an actor, enabling him to support

his family, he says. What got him into acting was seeing Lawrence

Olivier perform "Oedipus" and Sheridan’s "The Critic"

in 1947. "I was bowled over," he says.

It was Derry’s idea to do "On Golden Pond" together, says

Light, and she suggested Caleb, who nevertheless had to audition for

the part. The three don’t practice their lines together and don’t

make suggestions to each other. "That’s Bob’s business," Karl

says. Of himself, Derry, and Caleb being in the same play, Karl says,

"We’re delighted to be acting together. I’ve always known what

Derry is capable of as an actor. She’s so responsive and she has a

beautiful voice. I loved watching her sort of blossom."

Light’s single complaint: that the one scene that father and daughter

share isn’t longer. How does he think Caleb feels about acting with

his grandfather? "It’s definitely brought about a closer relationship,"

he says.

Derry, born, raised, and living in Princeton, has been acting for

30 years. She was "bowled over" when, at 10, she saw her dad

perform "Oedipus." She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College,

studied acting, lived in New York and worked in theater, and "came

out of retirement" (teaching full time and caring for her 16-month-old

) to do this play. Her dad once gave her suggestions on how to do

monologues; that’s all.

She didn’t know how it would be acting with Caleb, but it’s "been

wonderful to watch him growing." She says she admires her dad’s

"great presence, ability to listen on stage, wonderful voice,

and timing." Of her father playing the cynical curmudgeon Norman,

with plenty of hilarious lines, she says "the role almost fits

him like a glove." Of all three acting together? It’s "a marvelous

experience. Everybody’s been on his best behavior. … Usually we’re

so busy we don’t have time to be together."

Caleb says "I never knew my mom could act as well as she does."

He thinks both her and his grandfather "do a great job." Later

in life, he says, he will "definitely look into acting."

— Joan Crespi

On Golden Pond, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South

Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $18.50 & $20. Fridays through

Sundays to May 29.


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