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Barn Theatre review: 'On Golden Pond' a respite from winter doldrums

Summary: “On Golden Pond” features a small ensemble, with the leading actors being Tim Ostby as Norman Thayer Jr. and Stacey Neuhaus as his wife, Ethel. Ostby brings the acerbic, sardonic Norman to life as soon as the play opens with his witty, yet at times sarcastic, comments.

Billy Ray, played by Ethan Livingood, demonstrates how to smooch to Norman Thayer, Jr. during a dress rehearsal performance of "On Golden Pond" on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, at The Barn Theatre.
Billy Ray, played by Ethan Livingood, demonstrates how to smooch to Norman Thayer, Jr. during a dress rehearsal performance of "On Golden Pond" on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, at The Barn Theatre.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Are you looking for a respite from the winter doldrums? I would recommend spending an evening at the Barn Theatre in Willmar, Minn., where they are currently staging “On Golden Pond” by Ernest Thompson. This production is being directed by Merica Overcash-Thom, and runs for its second week Feb.17-20.

“On Golden Pond” features a small ensemble, with the leading actors being Tim Ostby as Norman Thayer Jr. and Stacey Neuhaus as his wife, Ethel. Ostby brings the acerbic, sardonic Norman to life as soon as the play opens with his witty, yet at times sarcastic, comments.

“Who is this?” he asks repeatedly to the photo on their desk, only to have Ethel remind him it’s an old family friend. His reply is hilarious.

Neuhaus' portrayal of Ethel is that of the wife of someone who is going through several life changes — not only physical health challenges, but also cognitive. Both she and Norman are frightened about this, but struggle to face the issue of life coming closer to a close.

The affable, laughable mailman Charlie, played by Malachi Elmhorst, brings not only the mail but local gossip about other folks who live on the lake.

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Bring on the Thayers' daughter, Chelsea, portrayed by Jennifer Brute, to remind Norman and Ethel that lake life has not always been so enjoyable, at least from her perspective.

She arrives with her newest boyfriend, Bill Ray, played by Thomas Dougherty-Rosengren, and his son Billy Ray, played by Ethan Livingood. Bill’s main objective appears to be sleeping with Chelsea. The audience enjoyed listening in to the conversation about this between Norman and Bill, which ends with Norman’s “OKAY” to the arrangement, and then his aside: “Just don’t let Ethel catch you.”

Billy winds up spending the summer with Norman and Ethel, and the result is that everyone experiences a new perspective of life on Golden Pond, and beyond. The chemistry between Billy and Norman as they spend time together fishing and reading books was another high point of this production.

The set for “On Golden Pond” really centers on the entrance to the Thayers’ lake home, and the characters who enter and exit through this door will lead you through a myriad of emotions. The cast delivered their lines with ease and in earnest. Their timing with one another was spot-on, and gave the audience the sense that they were truly in character.

So, please join them! The loons are calling you!

Pat Oss is recently retired from a 45-year career as a nurse and learning how to “act” as a retiree.

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