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ON STAGE: 'On Golden Pond' delivers ripples of delight

Vienna Theatre Company production running through Nov. 5
Deena Walter, Matteo Hope, Michael Mehaffey and Carolyn Corsano Wong star in Vienna Theatre Company's production of "On Golden Pond."

There’s no escaping oneself at a lakeside cabin in the woods. Solitude and nature’s soothing cacophony sweep aside noise and distractions, giving one time to ponder life and address essential things while there’s still time.

I only had seen “On Golden Pond” once before, specifically the 1981 movie starring Henry and Jane Fonda, Katharine Hepburn and Dabney Coleman. Despite the lapse of more than four decades, many of the lines in Vienna Theatre Company’s current production rang familiar, thus showing why the play has had such staying power.

Directed by Terri Richey and produced by Reece Smyth and Pete Storck, the show is solid and engaging. Written by Ernest Thompson, the play is set in the late 1970s at fictional Golden Pond in rural Maine, where elderly couple Norman and Ethel Thayer have been summering for decades.

Norman (Michael Mehaffey), a retired English professor in his 70s, is a gruff-but-lovable grouch and beginning to show hints of dementia. Ethel (Carolyn Corsano Wong) is in her 60s and knows how to handle her curmudgeonly spouse deftly, yet respectfully. It’s clear she’s spent years maintaining the family’s equilibrium.

The pair have a delightful dynamic that’s as comfortable as a pair of well-broken-in deck shoes, jeans and flannel shirt. Their love is evident throughout, but especially at the play’s end.

The couple prepare to welcome three visitors: their divorced daughter Chelsea (Deena Walter), her dentist fiancé Bill (Will Jarred) and his son, Billy (Matteo Hope).

Chelsea and Norman long have had a strained relationship, with the daughter feeling frustrated and inadequate and the father wishing she would visit more often from California. Ethel is sympathetic when Chelsea opens up, but urges patience and a less-plaintive attitude.

Norman and Ethel agree to host Billy for a month while Chelsea and Bill vacation in Europe, and it’s a delight to watch Norman bond with the boy over fishing, reading and French lessons. One suspects matters would be different today, with kids glued to their electronic media around the clock.

Hope is enjoyable in his role. Billy comes across as a good-natured, somewhat mischievous teenager who’s not too whiny or uncooperative.

Jarred does a fine job as the prospective son-in-law and does something really smart: He absorbs Norman’s teasing and game-playing without reacting, then says evenly that he’s aware of the machinations and won’t be taken advantage of.

Walter capably handles one of the most difficult roles as Chelsea, summoning up a blend of tenderness and resentment.

The play also benefits from cameos by two true-to-Maine characters: an eccentric mailman Charlie, played by Zell Murphy, and a wisecracking telephone operator portrayed by Shayne Gardner.

Vincent Worthington, Sue Ellen Smoot, Jason Crosby and Janet Kennelly deserve credit for the appealing set, which conveys the spacious, homey cabin in Maine. A sizable backdrop depicting the rugged outdoors covers the entire rear of the set.

The cabin itself, roughed in with 2-by-4s, seems so appropriately spartan and engulfed by nature that one is tempted to urge the actors to shut the broken screen door quickly, lest any of the myriad bugs on the other side sneak in.

Sound designer Wil Taft pipes in soothing loon calls and the play also features videos of waterfowl moving placidly across a pond.

“On Golden Pond” is heartwarming family entertainment, featuring wry comedic lines, plenty of familial bonding and brief moments of conflict that do not overwhelm the prevailing good will.

“On Golden Pond” runs through Nov. 5 at the Vienna Community Center, 120 Cherry St., S.E. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information and to buy tickets, visit