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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
"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
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,"
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
Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $18.50 & $20. Fridays through
Sundays to May 29.
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