Longtime Friends Bain Boehlke and Wendy Lehr Slip Into On Golden Pond Roles

Bain Boehlke and Wendy Lehr.

Bain Boehlke and Wendy Lehr.

It took some prodding to get Bain Boehlke to take a look at On Golden Pond, the 1970s play best remembered for the 1981 film version -- and the iconic performances of Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn as the aging couple, Norman and Ethel Thayer.

"I was not that interested in On Golden Pond. I have a certain distrust of big, blockbuster plays," Boehlke says. "They are done in every community theater and every college. They pop up on Broadway to make money."

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Still, after some prodding, Boehlke gave the script a try. "I was blown away by how well it was written," he says.

Boehlke's Jungle Theater presents the play starting this Friday. It will star Boehlke as Norman, and longtime friend and theatrical comrade Wendy Lehr as Ethel.

"There is a truly palpable spirit of something -- the spirit of our affectionate relationship -- that creates a very believable couple," Lehr says. "We don't spend that much time with each other offstage, but there is a vibrancy and vitality in our relationship."

Lehr has never seen the play, but does remember seeing the film when it came out 30 years ago. She respected the work done by Katherine Hepburn and the Fondas. However, neither she nor Boehlke watched the movie to get ready for their performances.

"We are both fairly close to the age of our characters," Lehr says.

"We have to give up our 'old-age' acting that we developed," Boehlke says.

The easy-going back and forth between Boehlke and Lehr has developed over the last five decades. The two first performed together in Theater on the Road, a traveling company made up of "a pickup and a Volkswagen presenting religious plays and the classics," Boehlke says.

That experience continued, as the two were both part of the early Children's Theatre Company, along with summer performances at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse in Bemidji.

They've appeared together at the Jungle as well, including in The Gin Game, another classic that Boehlke was wary of at first.

"There is this parallel journey our careers have run along," Lehr says.

The pair have been able to use history that for their fictional longtime couple, which they hope will give their characters a reality beyond the wedding ring Boehlke sports for the show.

"This one seems very close to home, especially my character," Boehlke says. "My character is acerbic and satiric and cynical about modern life, which I don't think is unusual."


On Golden Pond Friday through December 21 The Jungle Theater 2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis $25-$43 For tickets and more information, call 612.822.7063 or visit online.