Picnic comes to Catholic.
And by the time it’s over, lives are overturned, dreams are rekindled, and who knows what will happen next.
William Inge, master playwright of the heartland, captured middle-America’s pent-up and seething sexuality perhaps better than any other.
In Picnic Hal, a self-described piece of Arkansas White Trash, comes to town to visit his ex-fraternity brother, Alan. Once there, Hal meets the prettiest girl in town, Madge, who also happens to be Alan’s girlfriend. You can guess what happens next.
Written in 1953, a year before Elvis recorded his first song and began setting America’s youth ablaze, Picnic was a hit on Broadway and earned Inge a Pulitzer.
And well it should, for Picnic still packs a punch even as it rolls into its 63rd year.
Why? Because the character of Hal is still a bad boy and bad boys still inflame a woman’s heart.
The Hartke Theater production was directed by Bill Largess. His production’s Hal, a finely sculpted John Paul Jones, has all the character’s “showmanship.. If he lacks a bit of the danger inherent in Hal’s irrepressible personality, we overlook it with each hair flip and bodybuilder’s pose.
The beautiful Madge is played by Ellie Blakeslee. She stands radiant from the porch, throwing demure come hither glances. Her scenes with her kid sister Mille (played with a spunky wit by Maddie Belknap) are the perfect kind of sisterly feuding.
Danny Beason plays Alan, who just can’t believe that he’s won the heart of the most beautiful girl in town (but, of course, he hasn’t, not really, but such is the lot of people stuck in a fishbowl).
Millie and Madge’s mother, Flo, is played by Megan Risley. The stoic single mother does her best to raise a reasonable daughter but when passion is the only way out of town and a job at the five & dime—well all the reason in the world won’t suffice.
And then there is Rosemary (played with true desperation by Nicole Smith), the thirty something unmarried school teacher who knows that “happiness” is a now or never affair.
Her 40 something boyfriend, Howard (played with chuckles by Kevin Boudreau), is way too happy with his bachelor’s life, “with benefits” to risk ever “tying the knot”.
So it’s up to Rosemary to “force the moment to its crisis.” And she does to marvelous effect.
The rest of the cast consists of two other single teachers, Christine and Irma, a single next-door neighbor, Helen, and a newspaper boy, Bomber (played appealingly by Emily Cerwonka, Annaliese Neaman, Jane McCaffrey, and Joe Savattieri, respectively).
The Picnic production team consists of Luciana Stecconi (sets), Danielle Preston (costumes), John P. Woodey (lights), and Frank DiSalvo Jr. (sound).
To be sure, Inge’s Picnic is a classic. Although its theme and situation are iconic, how one elects to play that theme makes all the difference in the world. Hal, the visitor, either comes to town to destroy what is good and just. Or he comes to town to free what’s caged and barely breathing.
So much of small town life is burdened with that central question, and Inge’s play can be played either way, and with many shades of gray in between.
But it has to be played.
With so much of our culture and theatre emanating today from the urban centers with its dominant point-of-view, it was great to return to Inge’s small town sensibility, to a sensibility not threatened by the city slicker and big bad city values but by the yearning for a better, more possible life.
If the catalyst has to be a young man with more drive than sense, then so be it; for sometimes things just gotta change.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.