May 31 – June 13, 2019Vol. 21, No. 1

On Golden Pond: The Playwright Plays the Lead

Ernest Thompson with Lisa Bostnar, who will play Ethel, Norman's wife of 45 years.

by Esther J. Perne

The loons, the lake, fishing and family: the remarkable saga continues.

On Golden Pond, beloved play, book, movie that was lived and written by Ernest Thompson on Great Pond in Belgrade celebrates its 41st anniversary this month with a totally unique salute.

Thompson, who has a degree in theater arts from American University in Washington, D.C. and earned extensive acting credits prior to writing On Golden Pond, will be playing the role of Norman Thayer, the character that has been so endearingly portrayed on six continents, in 30 languages, on thousands of stages — even in places where there are no loons, no screen doors, no baseball.

In the live televised musical, Norman was presented by Christopher Plummer and on the big screen legendary Henry Fonda performed the lead in the second-highest grossing movie of 1982. Both Fonda and Thompson won Academy Awards for the movie.

"I'm following in the footsteps of some pretty top-level actors," Thompson says. "The role is really fascinating and I've had 41 years to think about it. I'm attempting to go deeper into his character."

It's still going to be the same play, the same comedy, Thompson states, "but there are layers under the layers."

"When On Golden Pond was written, Alzheimer's was not in our vocabulary. But the guy (Norman) is drifting away; he's losing his grip. I'm inviting the audience to come into his mind."

Audiences have always been partisan to Norman's forgetfulness, but in the June production directed by and starring Thompson, there will be a projection device that shows the audience what Norman is experiencing in scenes when he is forgetful, going into the woods and getting lost, seeing things that aren't there, being confused over things that are there. The screen will reset when Norman's mind resets.

"I'm at the precipice of creating a whole new interpretation," Thompson states. "I've always been fascinated by mental instability." Although the other characters will be played with deeper relational interpretations (Why has Chelsea stayed away for eight years? What is the mailman's underlying interaction with Norman — the father of his once upon a time crush, Chelsea?) the production will still be very, very funny, Thompson points out.

Unsure of how many other playwrights have starred in their own plays, Thompson says that for him and On Golden Pond, he hopes this production will just be the beginning and that the play will continue to be produced for decades to come.

Thompson does admit that he has an advantage with On Golden Pond. He owns it and although no one else can do anything with "On Golden Pond" without his permission, he can.

"It's a wonderful thing to own something," he says. "Not a day goes by but that we don't get a request (to produce it). There are literally hundreds of productions of On Golden Pond every year.

And now, there is one. On Golden Pond starring Ernest Thompson will be presented June 12 — 22 at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse in Meredith, New Hampshire. For tickets call 603 279-0333. Getting there from here is a beautiful drive.