Laura Johnson knew immediately she wanted to be a part of the “iconic” performance of “On Golden Pond,” Janesville Little Theatre’s upcoming production of the popular 1981 film starring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn and Fonda’s daughter, Jane Fonda.
So when Stacey Reed-Bodnar encouraged her to audition, Johnson jumped at the chance.
For her effort, Johnson was chosen to play Ethel Thayer, an energetic woman in her 60s who has long been making trips to the lake house where the movie is centered.
The movie, which was adapted from a 1979 play, garnered critical acclaim and earned Academy Awards for Henry Fonda (Best Actor), Hepburn (Best Actress) and Ernest Thompson (Best Adapted Screenplay). Beginning Friday, Oct. 25, area residents will have six opportunities to see the local production at the Janesville Performing Arts Center, 408 S. Main St.
“Once you come and see the show, if you’ve never seen it, it will become a favorite, I’m pretty sure,” said Steve Shaw, the show’s director. “It’s a wonderful show. It was an easy one for me to want to direct because I enjoy it so much.”
Johnson said she likes that, in theater, she gets to be somebody else. That sentiment was echoed by Bob Pohlman, who is playing Norman Thayer—the husband of Johnson’s character.
Pohlman said Norman is an old, intelligent man who was a college professor. His body is starting to break down, however, and he has heart problems.
Henry Fonda, who played Norman in the movie, died of heart disease in 1982, one year after the movie came out.
Pohlman said Henry and Jane Fonda didn’t get along very well in real life, and their father-daughter tension shone through in as Norman and his adult daughter Chelsea in the film version of the play.
Pohlman said he can relate to the movie. While the actual Golden Pond is in New England, Pohlman said he remembers past vacations he and his family took to northern Wisconsin lakes.
Pohlman’s Norman has his fair share of sarcastic lines in the show. But as he gets older—and he frequently reminds other characters of his age and potential death—Norman sees life differently, Pohlman said.
One word that kept coming up during interviews about the show was “heartwarming.” Shaw, the director, who has been leading shows for about 10 years, said the story has a lot of touching moments.
He also said he enjoys directing more than any other aspect of theater.
“I really enjoy the creative part of putting something on and being able to have your vision of what it would be like,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s a very satisfying challenge when you successfully complete it.”
Johnson, who lives in Whitewater, got her start in theater as a student at Shorewood High School near Milwaukee. The Marshall Middle School teacher returned to the stage in 2011 during a production of “Godspell” and began working on Janesville productions in 2013.
Johnson said she hopes the audience leaves the show with a better understanding of relationships, how they work and how people change.
“You’re in a certain age, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from another generation,” she said. “You can learn something from anybody.”
Shaw said the show can be a momentary escape for those upset about everything going on in today’s often divisive, political world.
“I hope they walk away and say that they’ve had a really nice evening at the theater, and that it was a great show,” he said.