'On Golden Pond' featured at Hopewell Theatre

'On Golden Pond' closes Hopewell season

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Hopewell Theatre will close its season with the love story “On Golden Pond,” opening Friday.

The touching tale of Ethel and Norman Thayer, who are returning to their summer home on Golden Pond for their 48th year, stars Thomas Hathhorn and Denise Sculli as the aging couple.

Norman is a retired professor with heart palpitations and a failing memory, but still as tart-tongued and observant as ever. Ethel is 10 years younger, and the perfect foil for Norman, delighting in all the small things that have enriched their long life together.

When the Thayers’ daughter, Chelsea (Leah Ifft), arrives with her fiance, Bill Ray (Nick Mulichak), she turns her parents’ world upside down by leaving Bill’s 13-year-old son Billy (George Maillis) with them for the summer.

The production is being co-directed by Mulichak and Regina Rees.

Mulichak discussed the play in this exchange:

Q. What are your thoughts about “On Golden Pond”? Why did you want to direct it?

A. I’ve loved the movie “On Golden Pond” since the first time I saw it, so I was thrilled to find the stage play on which the movie was based. I really feel a connection to all of these characters. They’re all so human. It’s easy to see yourself in any one of them, from the young kid, Billy, just starting his life, to 80-year-old Norman, reflecting on his own mortality. That’s what good theater does. It lets you identify with these characters even though they’re all so different. Some days I feel like Norman... all crotchety and a little afraid of life. Other times I feel like Ethel, viewing the world with such optimism and wonder. Luckily, I’m having more Ethel days than Norman days.

Q. What is it that has made the play such a strong attraction for audiences?

A. There is so much going on in this show. At its heart, it really is a beautiful and touching love story. Seeing these two people, who have spent most of their adult lives together, so incredibly bonded and so intertwined, it’s truly something that catches your heart. Still, it’s not all love and romance. This is a really funny show. The dialog is really sharp, and there is so much acerbic humor, especially between Norman and everyone else. He’s so grouchy, it’s hilarious! Then there’s the relationship between daughter, Chelsea, and parents Norman and Ethel. There’s a point in the show where she confronts her parents over the “mistakes” they made in raising her. It’s something to which everyone can relate.

Q. As director, what has been your approach to this production?

A. The first thing I did to approach this script was to enlist Regina Rees as co-director. She has such an amazing vision of how this show should look and feel. She had ideas for the show a year ago, and she spent months preparing. The set design and costumes are all Regina. When it comes to the actual direction of the show, we work very well as a team. What I miss, she catches, and vice versa. Our approach is simple. We want our actors to make these characters as real as possible. Every character in every play deserves a chance to be a real person, and this cast does an amazing job of bringing out that humanity. The set has a real homey feeling, with the kinds of knick-knacks that you would expect to find in a place that’s been lived in, even seasonally, for more than half a century. The set is a character unto itself.

Q. You are doing double duty as co-director and a cast member.

A. To be honest, I didn’t set out to be in this show, but when casting the show proved difficult, I had to take the role, and I am so glad I did. I’m incredibly lucky to be on stage with these people as well as co-directing them. It’s been so much fun watching them discover themselves in their characters, and they really do bring out the humanity in each one. Denise Sculli and Tom Hathhorn bring so much experience to the show, and they are so incredibly natural. Leah Ifft (as Chelsea) has been away from the stage for far too long, and I’m fortunate that she chose this to be her return. Paul Dahman (as Charlie the mailman) adds a lot of the comic relief to the show, and his comedic timing is fantastic. Our youngest cast member, George Maillis (Billy) has a real feel for the stage.