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Wilsonville Theater presents a much-loved tale of the Golden years

On Golden Pond starring Glenn Russell and Alexa MacDonald opens Feb. 21

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Glenn Russell (left) and Alexa MacDonald play Norman and Ethel Thayer in the Wilsonville Theater Companys rendition of On Golden Pond, opening Friday. With any family comes plenty of stories, and the Thayers are no exception.

From age, rage, regret, love, disappointment and forgiveness, the Maine family famously shared their lives with audiences across the globe in “On Golden Pond,” the 1981 Academy Award-winning film starring Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda and Katherine Hepburn.

Now, the Wilsonville Theater Company is taking a crack at the American classic that actually has its origin as a 1979 play of the same title written by Ernest Thompson. Thompson also wrote the screenplay for the cinematic version directed by Mark Rydell.

Fonda went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor in what turned out to be his final on-screen role. Hepburn also received an Oscar, as did Thompson for his script, and there were a further seven Academy Award nominations for the film.

With that kind of pedigree, it’s a daunting task for lead man Glenn Russell, who plays Norman Thayer, the character Henry Ford played.

“We’re alike in that we have the same sense of humor, but we’re not alike in the fear,” said Russell, who is the father of ‘Pond’ director Matt Russell. “The character has fear of death, and that doesn’t really concern me that much, and we’re pretty close to the same age.”

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Nathan Will (left) plays Charlie, the friendly postman who enjoys visiting with Ethel Thayer, played by Alexa MacDonald.

Wilsonville audiences will be able to decide for themselves starting with the 7 p.m. Friday opening show at Frog Pond Grange Hall, 27000 SW Stafford Road. Tickets are $8 for seniors and students, $10 for general admission at the door. Tickets also are available online at wilsonvilletheater.com and at the Wilsonville Fred Meyer store.

Additional shows will be offered at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday; 7 p.m. Feb. 28; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. March 1; 7 p.m. March 7; and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. March 8. For more information, visit wilsonvilletheater.com.

Matt Russell will direct the Wilsonville version of “On Golden Pond.” He said the Norman Thayer character, as well as the entirety of the play, will have a unique feel to it that those familiar with the movie may not immediately recognize.

“He’s playing the Henry Fonda character, but he plays it very differently,” he said. “When people come in they’re definitely going to see something that is distinctly different from the movie. They wouldn’t want to think, ‘I’ve seen the movie, so I don’t need to see the play.’ There are actually quite a few differences.”

For one, most of the character portrayals are different.

“Our Norman is a little bit on the lighter side than is Henry Fonda’s character,” Matt Russell said. “He’s not quite as edgy as Fonda, so that’s just one example of how we’re a little different.”

Glenn Russell admitted it’s a bit of a challenge to portray a character so strongly associated with a single actor.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Cecilia Harper (left) and Sam Ford play Chelsea Thayer and Bill Ray, respectively. Chelsea is Norman and Ethels daughter, and her announcement of engagement is met with derision from her father.

“I don’t want to be compared to Henry Fonda. He was a class actor, right at the top of the profession,” he said. “I don’t try to imitate Fonda in any way. It’s the thing about plays, especially plays that are movies, you never want to pattern your play after the movie.”

The story will be familiar to most viewers. It features Ethel, played by Alexa MacDonald, and Norman Thayer, an elderly couple that spends their summers at their cottage in Maine on a lake called Golden Pond. Already in his late 70s, Norman is cantankerous and not well disposed toward much of anything except watching the scenery while sipping bourban and offering caustic commentary. And when the Thayers are visited by their daughter, Chelsea, played here by Cecilia Harper and in the film by Jane Fonda, the introduction of her new fiancée does not go over well. Even worse, Chelsea’s new beau, Bill, played by Wilsonville Theater veteran Sam Ford, has brought his young son to stay with them.

The boy is annoyed at first and put off at being forced to spend time with a curmudgeon. But he eventually comes to enjoy fishing with Norman — so much so it even comes to upset his mother.

Other cast members include Nathan Will as Charlie the postman and Tate Ericson as Billy.

“Winter is a good time to do a drama,” said Matt Russell. “It’s probably the best time of the year to do a drama. And this one, I mean it’s a serious play with serious issues that it’s dealing with, but it also has an escapist element. It takes place in a summer lakeside cabin, so it’s an idyllic location. It’s a nice place for audiences to go in the dead of winter; going to rural Maine in the summertime by a lake, it’s a nice place to visit.”

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - On Golden Pond is a story of love, loss, family and the ties that sometimes grow fragile. Here, Ethel (Alexa MacDonald) comforts Norman as he tries to confront his own mortality.

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