There is theater. Then, there is Palm Beach Dramaworks – Don & Ann Brown Theater. It is venue with character, taste, beauty and featured talent. It is a non-miss venue and event when you are in Florida.
I had the privilege to attend opening night, February 2, of On Golden Pond at this phenomenal venue on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. This was, indeed, a special event. Opening night’s house was filled with all the individuals who have worked to make this venerable play what it is. The director was in the house with his family and I had the pleasure of speaking with him. I met the lighting professional who could turn day and night in a small cottage on The Pond seem like you are in the living room.
In 1981 as many of us know, Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda and Katherine Hepburn starred in the original version of On Golden Pond. At that time, it was one of the most memorable movies and is still talked about today. Jane Fonda and Henry, her father, always had a contentious relationship. The movie was, in essence, the story of The Fonda’s and how family relationships can be a burden and a blessing at the same time. Mr. Fonda won his only Oscar for this performance and died just several months after his acceptance speech. Katherine Hepburn won an Oscar for best actress and Jane Fonda was nominated.
Palm Beach Dramaworks’ rendition of this production was inspiring, thought-provoking, sad and funny at the same time, and more Importantly, relatable to almost every audience member in attendance. The perfection of dialogue and when to insert humor vs. sadness made this production so much greater. You could laugh and cry and the same time, and yet, be quite appropriate doing so.
Prior to my seeing this incredible production, I read that cast was bi-racial. I wondered how it would affect the theme of the show. I talked about it with colleagues and friends comparing it to the original movie. Yet, from the moment I sat down to experience this production, I totally forgot the fact that the actors were bi-racial.
This is a story of family, aging, relationships, marriage, personalities, sadness, laughter; it’s about ‘us.’ I felt as if I could have easily slipped into the beautiful cottage On Golden Pond, sat myself down on a comfy chair, and fit in perfectly with all the dialogue that was exchanged by any or all of the wonderful actors who were so real, that at times, I truly thought it was my family on stage.
I can say, after reviewing many Broadway productions over the years, this production was one of my absolute favorites. As a journalist, what I loved just as much, was the audiences’ reaction to the show. Ages ranged from late teens to late 80’s and beyond. The discussion among the audience members after the show said so much about the acting and message the actors delivered.
On Golden Pond tells the story of Norman and Ethel Thayer, who are spending their forty-eighth summer at their tranquil home on Golden Pond. Norman is cantankerous, approaching his 80th birthday, and aware he is dealing with memory issues that is very frightening to both him and Ethel. She is a decade younger and attuned to his every need; she sees his flaws but loves him unconditionally. Their daughter, Chelsea, upends their idyllic summer when she arrives with her fiancé, Billy Ray, his teenage son, Billy Ray, Jr., and lots of emotional baggage, one being her tumultuous relationship with her father, whom she refers to as Norman. It’s Norman and Mommy, which says a lot in just those few words.
On Golden Pond is directed by Paul Stancato and features Pat Bowie as Ethel; John Felix as Norman (PBD debut); Karen Stephens as Chelsea; Jim Ballard as Bill Ray, Chelsea’s fiancé; Paul Tei as Charlie, a local who has long loved Chelsea; and Casey Butler as Billy Ray, Bill’s son. Scenic design is by Bill Clark (PBD debut), costume design is by Brian O’Keefe , lighting design is by Donald Edmund Thomas , and sound design is by Brad Pawlak .
Evening performances of On Golden Pond are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30PM, Friday and Saturday at 8PM, and select Sundays at 7PM. Matinee performances are on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2PM. Post-performance discussions follow Wednesday matinee and Sunday evening performances. Individual tickets are $75. Student tickets are available for $15, and Pay Your Age tickets are available for those 18-40. Tickets for educators are half price with proper ID (other restrictions apply). Group rates for 20 or more and discounted season subscriptions are also available. This production ends February 25, 2018, so be sure to make your plans now.
The Don & Ann Brown Theatre is located in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach, at 201 Clematis Street. For ticket information contact the box office at (561) 514-4042, or visit palmbeachdramaworks website.