Play Reviews - "On Golden Pond" and "Honkey"

Last weekend I got to see two plays: "On Golden Pond" performed at Civic Theatre and "Honkey" performed at Northampton Community College. My viewing of the productions were well timed. I watched them right after my post about brokenness. Though different in tone, message, and style, both of these plays are a great example of how powerful the exploration of brokenness on stage can be. 

"Maple Cottage." Sharon Gerdes. India Ink. 2015.

"Maple Cottage." Sharon Gerdes. India Ink. 2015.

"On Golden Pond" is a play about an elderly couple who are spending their summer at their lake house. The husband, Norman is struggling with feeling as though his life is meaningless, and he frequently jokes about dying. Their daughter, Chelsea, shows up at the lake house with her new boyfriend and his son, Billy. Old bitterness is surfaced between the father and daughter, and before they have time to make things right, Chelsea has left with her boyfriend to go to Europe, leaving the boy in the care of her parents.

Turns out the Billy and Norman are good for each other. Norman introduces Billy to a love of reading and fishing and french, and Billy helps Norman capture some of his spark for life again. When Chelsea returns from Europe to pick up Billy she apologizes to Norman for harboring bitterness against him for so long. It is the beginning of reconciliation. Before the end of the play Norman and Chelsea say that they love each other and promise to talk and visit again soon.

It's a really sweet play. Civic did a great job with it. Norman and his wife, Ethel, were very strong and the whole cast put their hearts into the production. There were some mic issues the night that I was there, which was frustrating, especially since I could hear the actors fine when the microphones weren't working, but I am biased against using microphones in plays.

The set was amazing. You could see much of the house, which was beautifully decorated with the perfect amount of rustic flare, and there was an illusion to the roof of the house which was very cool.  They had a really neat backdrop with some trees printed on it that had backlighting. They would change the lights depending on the of time of day, making for a beautiful production.

What I loved about watching it was that it mirrored a struggling relationship that I have with someone important in my life. We are past the first stages of reconciliation but there is still a relationship to rebuild. Seeing it on stage reminded me of the pain that was caused but also of the joy that we are experiencing now because we are rebuilding that relationship. After the show was over I talked that friend on the phone. 

That's what good theatre does. It moves you towards people.

"Honkey" is a play about race in media and in our every day lives. I am so glad that NCC put it on. It was not a family friendly show due to lots of language and sexual themes, but it was very powerful and fair look at the prejudices and problems that racism creates. It was two hours of exploring the brokenness of our interactions between ethnicities. 

For the most part, the play was well done. They put it on in a very short period of time, which was impressive. It was performed as though it was a farce with huge over the top reactions and physicality. I'm still undecided how I feel about that. It took out of the play in the beginning, and I worried that it made a serious subject too funny, but that feeling didn't last. One could argue that the show needed to be performed as a farce to make the seriousness of the subject more palatable to the audience. 

My biggest complaint was that I had trouble hearing and understanding several of the cast, most tragically, the two kids at the subway station. Those characters were hilarious with the little I heard. I can only imagine how fabulous they would have been if they had been louder and paused for laughter. 

I don't want to tell much about the story because it's rather complicated and intertwined, and you should just read the play yourself! I think the play would have been served by some simplification, but it is so honest that it survives whatever weakness of script there are.

What I loved about the play is that it is incredibly politically incorrect, but not just to be offensive. It's giving voice to concerns, thoughts, questions, that people of every race struggle with in dealing with other ethnic groups. Frustrations, concerns, and fears that I would be afraid to admit in daily life were being shouted on stage. It was refreshing to see such an honest and such a fair portrayal of the struggle. 

But it didn't just stop at showing brokenness, it also challenges the audience to change, to face the fact that whether we mean to be or not many of us are unknowingly racist. That's not an easy pill to swallow, but acknowledging that gives a lot of freedom to start changing. After the show I talked with the director, Bill Mutimer, about it and he said that the show had started a lot of conversations on campus about race. I was really excited about that, and I hope that the production will help bring some more unity to that community. 

As with "On Golden Pond", "Honkey" provoked conversation for me, pushed to examine myself, pushed me to acknowledge where I am failing. I didn't have as immediate of an application for "Honkey" as I did for "On Golden Pond", but I did think of ways to work breaking barriers. Now I just need to make myself do them.

That's an overview of two great productions. "On Golden Pond" is open until Sunday, so if you have a free weekend go watch it. If you are up for it, read "Honkey" and think about what barriers you may have with people who are different from you and how you can go about tearing them down.