Review | “On Golden Pond” faces the reality of growing old


Courtesy of Theatre Tuscaloosa

From left: Lisa Waldrop Shattuck, Cooper Shattuck, and Dianna Brown Shaw. Photo by Porfirio Solorzano.

Jenna Daniel, Contributing Writer

Theatre Tuscaloosa and Shelton State Community College presented the dramatic comedy “On Golden Pond,” from Feb. 25 to March 6. 

The play, written by Ernest Thompson and directed by Paul K. Looney, took place in the Bean-Brown Theatre on the Martin Campus of Shelton State Community College. 

“On Golden Pond” was inspired by the Academy Award-winning film of the same name starring Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. 

The play tells the story of Ethel and Norman Thayer, an elderly couple portrayed by Dianna Shaw and Gary Wise, who visit their New England summer home accompanied by their daughter Chelsea, her new fiance and his son. The couple faces the reality of growing old and reminisces on the relationships they have developed in the past 48 summers on Golden Pond. 

Theatre Tuscaloosa’s play had only one set, so scenic designer Lynne Hutton used every inch of the stage to portray the Thayers’ cozy cabin. 

The details of the set — from the chronically broken screen door to the tall stone fireplace, fishing rods on the wall, rotary dial telephone and countless books on the wall — added to the escape from reality the cabin represented for Norman, Ethel and their family. 

The play opens to Norman pacing around the lake house as if he has never been there before, foreshadowing his struggle with the early stages of dementia. 

The audience got to know Norman’s character as a crass and hardheaded man with a pessimistic outlook on life, showcased in his deadpan responses. When Ethel asked, “Can you believe it’s our 48th summer here?” he responded, “Probably our last.” 

Wise delivery of Norman’s dry humor received laugh after laugh from the audience. From the first line, he seized the audience’s attention.

Despite his behavior, Ethel showed unconditional love for him, but the audience saw her loss of hope for the future as Norman’s health declined.

Shaw displayed raw emotion, unwillingly crying every performance, as the couple’s experiences run parallel to real-life encounters with growing old with someone you love.  

“The line that gets me is when she says, ‘Do you want to take the book with us?’ and he says, ‘No, leave it here, I’ll read it next year,’ but she’s not sure if there will be a next year,” Shaw said.

Theatre Tuscaloosa’s “On Golden Pond” was a nostalgic escape that was sure to leave a smile on your face and a tear in your eye. 

Theatre Tuscaloosa is presenting the 2022 Festival of One Acts from March 23 to 27, “The Mamalogues” from May 20 to 29 and “Mamma Mia!” from July 15 to 22.

Questions? Email the culture desk at [email protected].