There was a moment in the Montana Repertory Theatre production of “On Golden Pond” Monday at the Alberta Bair Theater where the character Norman Thayer says his heart hurts.
Thayer, who is played with wonderful snark by J.R. Robinson, isn’t talking about the heart palpitations troubling the 80-year-old retired professor, but the sensation of feeling again. At the beginning of the play, Thayer is just a bitter, if witty, old man waiting for death. Throughout the two-hour play that changes, and even though Norman's fertile mind is wandering a bit, he’s ready to live again.
The production is the final hurrah for long-time company artistic director Greg Johnson, who is retiring after the tour. Johnson has served the company since 1990. After the Billings show, the University of Montana-based company will travel across the U.S. performing dozens of shows in 10 states.
“As I fold my tent and seek new adventures after Montana Repertory Theatre, I look back with great satisfaction on where we started and where we have come,” Johnson wrote in the program notes.
“On Golden Pond” was an excellent choice for his swan song as Johnson, like Thayer, is creating a new beginning for himself.
There was so much to love in the production, which opened on Broadway in 1979 and was written by Ernest Thompson. the 1981 film won Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda both Academy Awards.
Hudson Therriault was brilliant as the goofball mailman, Charlie, and Suzy Hunt portrayed the good-natured Ethel, always the cheerleader behind her hard-to-love Norman.
But it was all on Robinson to make us love Norman, the finicky, sometimes cruel father to Chelsea, played by Amber Rose Mason. We feel Chelsea’s pain for never living up to her pompous father’s expectations, but we also root for a reconciliation.
That's the message behind this deceptively simple show, it ain't over till you're 6-feet under.