By JESSE SCOTT FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
It’s only appropriate that when “On Golden Pond” lands in Fredericksburg that a gold-star cast and crew come along with it.
Actress Joyce DeWitt—perhaps best known for portraying Janet Wood on the iconic sitcom “Three’s Company”—leads a stellar production at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts. The show owns the stage Wednesdays through Sundays through mid-November.
“[DeWitt] has been an absolute sweetheart and consummate professional,” said Patrick A’Hearn, producing artistic director at Riverside. “She is just remarkable and you can see so much depth in her acting, with years of training and experience in the theater world.”
“On Golden Pond” focuses on the story of an aging couple—Norman and Ethel (played by DeWitt)—as they embark on an annual trip to a beautiful cottage in Maine. The trip spotlights how life transforms over the years, touches on dementia and Alzheimer’s in a tender manner and has tasteful humor woven throughout.
“It’s a beautiful story,” said A’Hearn. “The way the play is written … it’s the right combo of humor and pathos and it’s so poignant. You can have a laugh and a good cry, and it has such meaning to an audience.”
For DeWitt, it’s the first time she’s performed at Riverside and in “On Golden Pond.” And, it’s the story itself that ultimately made her commit.
“It was an easy yes,” said DeWitt. “And, on top of it being beautifully written, [A’Hearn] runs a marvelous theater and everyone here is just marvelous.”
In addition to being her Riverside and “On Golden Pond” début, the show marks DeWitt’s first performance in more than two years. Recently, she has spent every waking moment at her father’s side as he tackled health issues, she said.
“Being back in the theater, it feels like I’m home,” said DeWitt. “I started working in theater when I was 13 years old. I’m in my natural state and I love being here.”
Along with DeWitt, the Riverside production’s cast boasts Mitchell Austin as Billy Ray Jr., Andrew C. Boothby as Charlie Martin, Alan Hoffman as Billy Ray and Jennifer Joyner as Chelsea Thayer Wayne.
Veteran actor Joe Inscoe stars as Norman. In addition to appearing in a number of regional theater productions in and around Richmond, Inscoe has nearly 100 TV and film credits to his name. Throughout the years, he’s appeared in “House of Cards,” “The Wire,” “One Tree Hill,” “Matlock” and “Nell,” among other hit shows and movies.
“He is just phenomenal onstage and, offstage, he is the dearest man,” said A’Hearn. “The chemistry that he and [DeWitt] have onstage is just incredible.”
Visually, folks will be welcomed into the family’s living room at the lake house on Golden Pond. While there may not be any major set changes, according to director Sherri Edelen, “the changes come with the people that come and go throughout the show.”
“On Golden Pond” marks the second production that Edelen has directed at Riverside. She is credited with “Steel Magnolias” in 2014 and is a Helen Hayes Award-winning actress in her own regard. Amid the countless productions Edelen has touched over the years, Riverside has a special place in her heart.
“The facility alone is quite amazing … with lots of fly space and wing space,” she said. “I’m so grateful it’s here. My husband and I are both actors in the area and we’re used to traveling an hour each way to perform. And here we have a world-class facility, 10 minutes from our house, for everyone to enjoy.”
With Edelen’s return and having legendary actress Sally Struthers featured in multiple Riverside shows, the question now becomes “could we see DeWitt at Riverside again sometime soon?”
“It is not too early to ask that question. This place is just so special,” said DeWitt. “I would love to work at this theater again and I’d be very happy to have [A’Hearn] call me about that.”
In a world that is always focusing on “what’s next,” perhaps it’s best for us to appreciate what’s taking place at Riverside right now. It’s truly something special.
Jesse Scott is a freelance writer and Fredericksburg native.