The Laconia Daily Sun – May 1, 2019
MEREDITH — Never mind that it takes place on a pond in Maine not unlike the one in Belgrade, Maine, where the award-winning playwright spent his summers. For New Hampshire residents and visitors, the golden pond is right here, at Squam Lake, where the iconic film was shot.
The Lakes Region has embraced Ernest Thompson’s play “On Golden Pond” as its own, and the Oscar-winning writer and noted stage director will make the role of Norman his own this summer at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse in Meredith.
Thompson will not only direct a professional production onstage there in June, but will portray the aged yet unbowed lead of what he’s calling a new production, in a rendition which he says “will show the figurative rocks beneath the deceptively bucolic surface of the lake and how harrowing the journey can be.”
As director of his own material — and he’s directed his works before — Thompson will be revisiting a play he wrote decades earlier, with the intent of deconstructing it, stripping it down to its original intent — this time from the inside out as both director and performer.
“I consider it an honor,” Thompson says, “to follow in the footsteps of thousands of actors who have preceded me.” Included in that are the first Norman, Tom Aldredge, from the New York premiere, to Henry Fonda’s Academy Award-winning film portrayal, as well as Christopher Plummer’s brilliant turn in a televised (and Thompson-directed) production. Not to mention the Normans on six continents who have performed in at least 30 languages since the play was first published.
It would be a huge undertaking for anyone, but Thompson is invested in delving into the material with a superb professional cast.
Lisa Bostnar will play Ethel, Norman’s wife of 45 years. Bostnar has multiple stage credits, from New York City to regional Shakespeare and, closer to home, with the Peterborough Players. She is a delightful performer with television and film credits as well; and Ernest and Lisa will appear together in Ernest’s new film, “Parallel America,” currently in preproduction.
The two will be joined by a supporting cast of New York, Chicago, and regional pros, including Anna Rock as Chelsea, Adam Kee as Bill, and Landon Shaw as Charlie, with the young Billy Ray yet to be cast.
With an acclaimed film and three glittering Broadway productions (the most recent starred James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams), and conversations underway for him to direct a fourth Broadway run, as well as the London West End premiere, the question is, why this production and why now?
In part because it has been 40 years or so since the young man put words to paper, and as Thompson himself notes, he “never meant for the play to be the sentimental boat ride down memory lane.”
For another thing, Alzheimer’s wasn’t part of the national lexicon in 1978, but it’s very much on people’s minds now: One out of three Americans will contract the disease. We’ve learned more about how one family member falling into catastrophic illness of any kind upsets and impacts the patient’s family as well, like ripples emanating from disturbing the once-smooth surface of a pond. Any pond.
That’s the beauty and universality of what seems like a simple story on the surface, but promises to plumb some depths in this new production. The audience will be invited to see more starkly what the playwright sees: the complicated and diminishing of Norman Thayer Jr. who, while buoyed by the tireless love and support of his remarkably patient and indomitable wife, is confused by conflicted feelings toward his estranged daughter, not to mention jolted by having a troubled young boy unexpectedly thrust into his life.
On Golden Pond opens on June 12, with performances through June 22. Tickets available now from the Winnipesaukee Playhouse at 603-279-0333. Online information and tickets are available at www.winnipesaukeplayhouse.org.
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