Family ties that bind - and often fray
James Earl Jones headlines 'On Golden Pond' on Broadway
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Ms. Uggams, who stepped in for an ailing Diahann Carroll just days prior to the production's debut at the Kennedy Center in Washington last year, agrees with the decision, saying bigotry has no color barrier. "We all have people in our families who don't like anybody, so there was no need for that to be changed," she says in an interview at the Cort Theatre.Skip to next paragraph
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Jones is reluctant to comment on his position, having been misunderstood in the past. "It often gets printed that I believe in those remarks, that I'm bigoted or that the play is suggesting bigotry.... I've given up trying to explain it, because America is still so obsessed with race and racism." He does say he believes in the integrity of the original writing, and suggests why Norman might make such remarks. "He probably was a very good professor ... probably a very responsible person about things like bigotry. Now that he's retired, he's free to indulge in it," says Jones.
If Norman's orneriness is more apparent in the play than in the film, so perhaps, is Ethel's firmness. Unlike Ms. Hepburn's Ethel, who was more physically affectionate with Chelsea, for example, Uggams plays the role with a bit more edge - using Nancy Reagan, with whom she is acquainted, as the model of a woman who is a wife first, mother second.
People may not think of "On Golden Pond" as humorous because they brought a lot of baggage about the actors with them when they saw the movie, says Uggams, also a Tony-winner. They were focused on the health of the leads, and on Mr. Fonda's own bumpy relationship with his daughter Jane, who played Chelsea. "When I read the play, I thought, 'Wow, these people are funny. They're not trying to be, but they're funny.' "
Jones doesn't remember the story of the Thayers as being that humorous. "I took the movie very seriously, I took it as a study in fragility, and in fragile, damaged relationships in families, and I loved it."
"There are a lot of ironies that people laugh at, not because they're funny, but because they recognize them and appreciate the poetic ironies," he says.
"On Golden Pond" was the result of Thompson's musings in his late 20s about the end of an era - the end of a time when he could hole up at his family's lake house in Maine between the time school let out in June and Labor Day. "Norman and Ethel Thayer became sort of metaphors for that, because they're also in a time of transition." Eventually, he says, the play became more about a long marriage, a troubled father-daughter relationship, and the re-vivifying effects of a young boy (Chelsea's boyfriend's son) on an old man. "Critics generally don't like this play very much, " Thompson says in a phone interview, citing, among other things, that it probably feels old-fashioned to them.
Even he is sometimes amazed at its longevity. After he directed a television version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in 2001, he figured "no one would ever want to know about 'On Golden Pond' again." Instead, it's more produced than ever, he says. "It doesn't go away, and I'm starting to have to just make my peace with that."