Ethel (played by Roberta Cashwell) takes a call brought to her by Norman (John Carson) in a rehearsal of 'On Golden Pond.' The Tar River Players will stage the play Friday through Sunday and May 2-4 in McIntyre Auditorium at Edgecombe Community College in Tarboro.
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Telegram photo / Alan Campbell

Ethel (played by Roberta Cashwell) takes a call brought to her by Norman (John Carson) in a rehearsal of 'On Golden Pond.' The Tar River Players will stage the play Friday through Sunday and May 2-4 in McIntyre Auditorium at Edgecombe Community College in Tarboro.

Play follows aging patriarch's travails

By Tyler Kes
Staff Writer

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It is amazing how beautiful nature can appear to someone who really hasn’t spent much time there.

It is equally amazing, albeit in a more horrifying way, how fast Alzheimer’s disease can twist someone away from the person they used to be.

Both topics will be examined in the Tar River Players’ newest play, “On Golden Pond.”

“I founded the troupe in 2005, so this is our ninth season,” said Roberta Cashwell, who plays Ethel Thayer. “This is our 30th show. We try to do four a year.”

Although the troupe usually chooses plays that have more female roles for the spring production, Cashwell said, “On Golden Pond” was chosen because it fit the cast the Players had.

“We wanted something that was a smaller cast,” Cashwell said. “Actually, usually we have more women in the spring show, but we found this year we had more men available. A number of people like this show, and we like to do things that are familiar to everybody. This one seemed to be a crowd-pleaser, but sometimes we get a surprise.”

The cast is made up of a mix of adults, such as John Carson, who directs and plays Norman Thayer, one of the lead roles, and students from Edgecombe Community College and local high schools.

“I heard her talk about in my Acting 1 class because I take it with Ms. Cashwell,” said Newman Jones, a junior at the Edgecombe Early College who plays Billie Ray, the young boy who stays with the Thayers.

“He is kind of like a typical city kid,” Jones said. “You take him from the city and move him to the county. He comes to the lake and sees Norman and sees that it is not all just city and he can see other things. He becomes more well-rounded, in a way.”

This is not the first time Carson has directed a show he stars in, he said, but it is the first time he is in both roles from the beginning.

“One of the things I found out is it is really easy, a week before production, two weeks before production, to step right in,” Carson said. “I have directed the show differently than I normally direct because of the type of part it is and the size and the driving force in the show the part is, that I also have to play.”

As Norman Thayer, Carson plays a former college professor dealing with a disintegrated relationship with his daughter and the strains of aging, losing his memory and having a new step-grandson.

“Stop and think about if you have ever seen the mind go in somebody,” Carson said. “Put that mind in the body of an Ivy League English professor and find out how frustrating that can be. He is ready to go. At the beginning of the play he is just waiting to die.”

Having recently gone through a similar struggle with his father helped prepare Carson for the role.

“I could not have played this part, not until I saw my dad go through what Norman is about to go through, in terms of his mind,” Carson said. “Now this part makes so much more sense to me than it did even eight years ago, and I am in my late 50s.”

Carson compares his character to other well-known curmudgeons, but said the attitude is an act.

“I understood why this guy is the way he is because this is a defense mechanism,” Carson said. “His sarcasm and everything is a defense mechanism he uses to keep people from realizing.”

Over the course of the play, Norman also has to deal with his new in-laws, which is something Carson also said he could relate to.

“My daughter got married about a month ago,” He said. “It is like him talking to her is like, ‘Oh, I just got through doing that to my prospective son-in-law’ and saw my dad do that to my brother-in-law, so yeah, I know about this.”

The play opens at 8 p.m. Friday at McIntyre Auditorium at Edgecombe Community College’s Tarboro campus. The other performances are at 8 p.m. Saturday and May 2-3 and 2 p.m. Sunday and May 4.

General admission tickets are $10 and $5 for seniors and students.