On Golden Pond - Photo Ivoryton Playhouse
On Golden Pond – Photo Ivoryton Playhouse

Are you up for a road trip? Mia Dillon from Fairfield and James Naughton from Weston team up for a superb theatrical treat – “On Golden Pond” – at the Ivoryton Playhouse, near Essex, Connecticut – and acting doesn’t get much better than this.

Watching and listening to their comedic interplay is as engrossing as sitting before any matched play of champions. Mia Dillon has an extraordinary presence and James Naughton has never been better. Their exquisitely modulated and richly satisfying performances exude a seamless simplicity. What a joy to see such talent endure.

If you’ve never seen “On Golden Pond,” written by Ernest Thompson, it revolves around Ethel and Norman Thayer, a retired professor and his perceptive wife who have always spent summers in her family’s rustic cottage on a tranquil lake in Maine. 

While Norman is about to turn 80, this summer is no different – until their somewhat estranged daughter Chelsea (Stacie Morgain Lewis) arrives with her fiancé Bill (Josh Powell) and his snarky 13 year-old son, Billy (Sebatino Cruz).

Directed by Brian J. Feehan, the supporting cast is not only strong but displays a charming understanding of the faith and folly of aging that’s both funny and heartbreaking. 

The only jarring note was when cynical Norman makes an obviously anti-Semitic remark. Perhaps in 1979, when the play was written, it was more acceptable to denigrate Jews. Now, it isn’t. That racist line should have been deleted because it comes across as a reprehensible verbal betrayal by a character whose curmudgeonly company we’ve come to enjoy, 

FYI: The first Broadway production starred Frances Sternhagen and Tom Aldredge while Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda won Oscars for their respective roles in the 1981 movie version.

You can see “On Golden Pond” at the Ivoryton Playhouse through June 11.  For tickets, go to ivorytonplayhouse.org.

Book Club The Next Chapter - Photo Focus Features
Book Club The Next Chapter – Photo Focus Features

When Hollywood writers go on strike, it emphasizes our awareness of how pivotal these storytellers are to the movie-making process. And – in the case of “Book Club: The Next Chapter” – lazy screenwriting undercuts the best intentions of a quartet of highly competent actresses who have – collectively – earned four Oscars, six Emmys and 13 Golden Globes.

This sequel to the 2018 “Book Club” comedy reunites Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen as lifelong friends who decide to celebrate the end of their zoom calls during the pandemic quarantine with a fun-filled trip to Tuscany.

“The travel ban has lifted! Let’s go to Italy.”

Chic, commitment-adverse hotelier Vivian (Fonda) has impetuously become engaged to her old flame, Arthur (Don Johnson), so the jaunt turns into an extravagant bachelorette party.

Having shuttered her restaurant, Chef Carol (Steenburgen) is worried about her husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) who recently suffered a heart attack. Still toting around the ashes of her dead husband, widowed Diane (Keaton) is now living with airline pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia). And slyly satiric retired federal judge Sharon (Bergen) is still playing the field.

Mishaps in their wacky Italian adventure include lost luggage, a flat tire, even a night in jail – after an extended shopping session in an opulent bridal salon. 

Yet it’s not all Prosecco and gelato as they wine and dine their way through Rome and Venice with cinematographer Andrew Dunn capturing the lushly tantalizing travelogue.

Problem is: the sappy, stilted screenplay that’s been crafted by director/producer Bill Holderman and producer Erin Simms. These talented sightseers – along with flirtatious Giancarlo Giannini – deserve better than this briefly anecdotal fluff, filled with clichéd PG-13 double entendres. 

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Book Club: The Next Chapter” is a flighty, frenetic, fumbling 4, playing in theaters and available to stream.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.