This weekend I saw the opening night of On Golden Pond at the Ojai Arts Center Theatre. This is the first show of a powerhouse season that 1st year Artistic Director, Richard Camp, is rolling out. Before I get into the show itself, I must first take a moment to mention the undeniable star of the show; the absolutely gorgeous set created by Steve Mitchell. The cozy cabin on stage greets the audience, as the curtain is left open for the entire night. It would be a shame to cover it for even a second. All the while, the lighting design by Claire Cleary floods us with the beautiful palette of nature in its sunrises, sunsets and dancing shimmers of light off “Golden Pond.” It is on this canvas that Tony winning director, Craig Anderson (who directed On Golden Pond on Broadway) has painted this emotional fresco, expertly guiding a very impressive cast.
Lawrence Pressman (Transparent, General Hospital, Judging Amy, Mary Tyler Moore Show, go check his IMDB- you’ve seen him before) stars as Norman Thayer, who has accompanied his wife, Ethyl played by Kitty Winn (The Exorcist, Panic in Needle Park) to spend the summer at their cabin On Golden Pond. If you have seen the movie, you will most likely associate these two parts with Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. And while climbing from the shadow of those two would seem an insurmountable task for any pair, Pressman and Winn win the audience over almost immediately. Their relationship is so believably warm, funny, and playfully contentious. The prefect essence of how any old married couple should be. It really warms the heart and makes you feel a part of the house. Comedy bubbles to the top as they are visited by Charlie the local mail man, played by John Medeiros with a contagious laugh and delightfully expressive face. While Charlie’s main literary objective is to establish Norman’s “alpha” tendencies and offer up a dose of familial exposition, you don’t mind it. Medeiros is affable as Norman’s punching bag and becomes an instant fan favorite. However, the show doesn’t hit full stride until Lee Ann Manley (Jane Fonda’s part of Chelsea- the daughter) shows up with new boyfriend- the Dentist (Paul Sulzman) and his son, Billy (Rhett Speer) in tow.
Manley’s trepidation is immediate and unspoken as it shakes the mood the audience has settled into. Her tenuous relationship with Norman takes center stage, bringing a rawness to the cabin, threatening the lovely cottage and couple we have grown accustomed to (Almost said "grown fonda"- get it?) While the opening of the show may be a bit slow for some people (granted, it is a show about an 80 year old man) the pace gains a clip and begins to pull you in as dominoes fall into place.
It’s at this time my favorite part of the show happens. Bill- the Dentist (Sulzman) and Norman face off and fireworks fly. Sulzman plays Bill as a man who is sure of himself, can sniff out bullshit and isn’t afraid of Norman. Something Norman probably doesn’t get a lot of. Both actors shine in this scene, and it alone is worth the price of admission.
The rest of the show has its touching moments interwoven with some comedy and a sharp turn here or there. A cute and bittersweet reuniting of Chelsea and Charlie, Billy and Norman’s blossoming mentoring relationship, and a dynamic Chelsea and Ethyl rollercoaster trip down memory lane.
While the show admittedly may have hit a bump or two (some opening night jitters which undoubtedly have been ironed out) it was a great show. I strongly suggest going out to see it.
The Ojai Arts Center Theater has laid the groundwork with a beautiful set, amazing talent, legendary directing. Making a bold statement, so bold that I feel confident saying Mr. Camp’s debut as artistic director, passed this first test with flying colors. I, for one, can’t wait to see what else Ojai Arts Center puts up on stage this season.
On Golden Pond runs Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons through Feb 18th. Tickets available on their website at www.ojaiact.org