On Golden Pond (play)

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On Golden Pond is a play by Ernest Thompson. The plot focuses on aging couple Ethel and Norman Thayer, who spend each summer at their home on a lake called Golden Pond. During the year the story takes place, they are visited by daughter Chelsea with her fiancé and his son in tow. The play explores the often turbulent relationship the young woman shared with her father growing up, and the difficulties faced by a couple in the twilight years of a long marriage.



Act 1

Scene 1

May Norman and Ethel arrive at the summer house, finding it in need of repairs. There are hints that Norman is having problems with his memory.

Scene 2

June Norman makes a nominal effort to find a job in the classified ads, to Ethel's chagrin. The mailman, Charlie, stops by and reminisces about the Thayer's daughter, Chelsea, whom he used to date. A letter arrives from Chelsea saying that she is coming from California with her boyfriend Bill to celebrate Norman's 80th birthday. It becomes clearer that Norman is struggling with memory loss, as he continues to forget names and places that should be familiar.

Scene 3

July Chelsea arrives with Billy Ray and his 13-year-old son, Billy Ray Jr. Chelsea asks her parents if Billy Jr. can stay with them while she and Billy go to Europe. Norman (a bit reluctantly) and Ethel agree to keep Billy Jr.

Act 2

Scene 1

August Norman and Billy Jr. have become friends, and spend much of their time fishing. Chelsea returns, and reveals that she and Billy are now married. Ethel shows her impatience with Chelsea's habit of bitterly harping on the past. Chelsea confronts her father about their troubled relationship, and the two have a reconciliation.

Scene 2

September Norman and Ethel are packing to leave for the winter. Chelsea calls, and they agree to go visit her in California. Norman seems to suffer a heart attack, (whilst picking up a box of Ethel's mother's heavy china) but recovers, and the pair leave Golden Pond.


After five previews, the first Broadway production, directed by Craig Anderson, opened on February 28, 1979 at the New Apollo Theatre, where it ran for 126 performances. The cast was headed by Tom Aldredge and Frances Sternhagen. After a summer break, it reopened with the same cast on September 12 at the Century Theatre, a small playhouse in the basement of the Paramount Hotel, where it ran for an additional 256 performances.

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