Ernest Thompson to star in playhouse adaptation of ‘On Golden Pond’

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Academy Award Winner Ernest Thompson
Academy Award Winner Ernest Thompson
photo by 3Sixty | Bruce Luetters

Monitor Staff
Published: 6/12/2019 5:20:27 PM

Four decades after writing On Golden Pond, Ernest Thompson is finally ready to star in it.

Thompson’s classic On Golden Pond opens the Winnipesaukee Playhouse’s professional season and returns to the state on Wednesday where its film adaptation was shot. In the play adaptation, Thompson will take the role of Norman, the aging curmudgeon at the center of the play, for the first time.

“I’ve had a lot of theories about the old man. This is the time to put them to the test,” said Thompson.

When On Golden Pond first hit Broadway in 1979, Thompson was in his twenties and the Iran hostage crisis began. Since then, Thompson has become ready for Norman.

“I’m within sight of that point of life myself, and I’ve had about 40 years to think about it,” said the writer, director and star. “It’s been rewarding and surprising on all kinds of levels because I’m finding secrets in the text that even I didn’t know were there.”

Foremost among those secrets, said Thompson: a new understanding of Norman as a man suffering from a disability that society now more readily identifies – Alzheimer’s. Thompson estimated that the role of Norman has been played some 10,000 times in 30 different languages. For this iteration of Norman, he plans to take a new look at the character’s decreased faculties.

“It’s really fascinating to turn the prism by just one section and look a everything through a slightly different view. … Now that I have an actor I can control, it’s a great opportunity to see how far we can push that. I am really going into that place.”

To help elicit a better understanding of Norman’s condition, Thompson added a “window into Norman’s world” on the set that will allow theatergoers to get a glimpse of the old man’s obscured view.

That’s not the only special addition to the set.

“I’m putting a lot of clues on stage for people who are true On Golden Pond afficionados,” said Thompson.

Hidden gems include drawings of the original Broadway set, a watercolor Henry Ford made while shooting the film adaptation, and rugs, books and pictures used in past performances.

Physical items aren’t the only things from the past playing a role in this production. From the expansive list of great actors who have become Norman – Fonda, Christopher Plummer, Tom Aldredge and James Earl Jones included – Thompson said he plans to use the courage required to embrace the role.

He has no shortage of past adaptations to borrow from. The play first appeared off-Broadway then moved onto it. It was on the big screen and then adapted for TV. It’s appeared in countless theaters and got a Broadway revival with an all-black cast.

Thompson never expected the play to have such an enduring existence.

“If I ever have time, I’ll write a book called, “My Unintended Life on Golden Pond.” I keep thinking it’s over. When I first wrote it, I thought it would be great if I could get six actors to read it in my living room and say, “Hey! That was great,” and go back to playing tennis, then it just had this extremely serendipitous life,” said Thompson.

That life continues with new breath at Winnipesaukee, a breath earned over the course of Thompson’s life.

“When I wrote it, I didn’t know anything about old people. I just tried to grasp onto that character with my own 28 year old fear and trepidation and excitement and joy and insecurity. … Now that I am 10 years younger than the character, I suppose I bring all the baggage of life to my interpretation of him.”

As Thompson has grown into the play, it has grown in its own way, enduring nearly half a century only to become evermore relevant.

“I have great pride that I wrote something that seems to be withstanding the test of time. It continues to move people,” he said.

Thompson noted is close to selling out its 12 performances.

“Maybe it’s because of my involvement, but I think it’s because people still love the story and it still speaks to them on many different levels,” Thompson said.

Performances of On Golden Pond will run daily through June 22, except Sundays, at 7:30 p.m., with matinees at 2 p.m. on June 13 and 17.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

To read this article online at the Concord Monitor, click here.

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