by Jennifer Johnson
Picnic is an award-winning romantic drama by William Inge from the early 1950′s, presented by Magnolia Arts Center and directed by Chip Galusha. Challenging social expectations, sexism, the loss of youth and the definitions of beauty, Picnic opens our own lives up for questioning in this initially simple yet multi-layered play.
The wistful sound of a train calls out over the open green lawn in the center of the stage surrounded by a wooden fence partially covered in ivy with a faint hint of fireflies in the background. The comfortable porches of two small country houses sit at opposite sides of the stage. Each one’s inhabitants represent a differing point of view in the small, seemingly idyllic, 1950′s town in Kansas over Labor Day weekend. Everyone is preparing for the much anticipated picnic. The woman are cooking and perfecting their outfits for the event but there is a disruption in their neighborhood in the form of a shirtless young man who awakens their desires and sends many dreaming of their lost youth.
Flo Owens (Janice Schreiber) is the overprotective mother and one of the many voices of the repressed society. She encourages her daughters to be beautiful and to marry well. Focusing on appearances more than matters of the heart, Schreiber brings a strong believability to her character’s loneliness that comes with being a single mother without love or passion in her life. However, she means well and it is clear she wants the best for her two daughters.
The older sister, Madge Owens played by Amy Albritton, is very beautiful but doesn’t want to just be admired for her looks. She is afraid her boyfriend, Allan, only loves her for her prettiness and she wants more than that. She has to decide between her rich boyfriend whom she does not love or the financially struggling man that has touched her heart. Albritton successfully shows her character’s slow change from submissive into a woman with a mind of her own with the bravery to seek her passions.
The younger sister, Millie Owens, played with a refreshing honesty by April Brown, is the rebellious tomboy adolescent sneaking cigarettes and arguing with her sister but at the same time she has a college scholarship and big plans for her future. At times angry because she is jealous of Madge’s beauty and her ease attracting the opposite sex, Millie decides she wants to focus on improving her talents instead. Brown captures Millie’s complex character with endearing facial expressions and a natural way in front of an audience.
The schoolteacher, Rosemary Sydney (Sarah Richardson), is an older unmarried woman that brags about her freedom from marriage which makes her seem independent, but that is not how she truly feels. She and her friends seem to care only about image and presenting a lovely appearance. She has dated Howard Bevans (Stephen Harding) for many years but he is uncertain he wants to get married. So, when the handsome young man, Hal, comes into town her unsuccessful attempts to get his attention sparks confrontation between several characters. Richardson conveys Rosemary’s desperation and insecurity in a powerful performance emphasizing the loneliness she truly feels.
When Hal Carter (Allen Andrews) arrives in this small repressed town half naked doing odd jobs for Helen, some of the townspeople come alive with gossip and desire while others try to shun him out of fear. He is very good looking and rugged, wearing boots and a leather jacket one minute then rippling muscles the next. He tells elaborate stories from his adventures out in Hollywood but it is hard to tell if any of them are true. He feels like a failure and admires his friend Allan Seymour for being so successful. It is hard for him to be natural because he constantly feels like he must hide his true self and put on a show. Andrews skillfully delivers Hal’s impulsive nature in a sensitive yet masculine way. He seems to really connect with his love interest, Madge (Albritton), with a chemistry that is steamier than the hottest afternoon.
Allan Seymour (Patrick Reid) is Madge’s rich boyfriend. He is sensible and stable with a good job and high status in the community. When his old frat buddy, Hal, comes into town and regales all with his exciting adventures in the West, Allan lives vicariously through him. Being in love with the same girl, however, destroys their friendship.
Next door lives Helen Potts (Emily Trabucco). She is a sweet older woman who has long-sacrificed her own happiness to take care of her sick mother. With the arrival of the handsome chest-baring young man her long-dormant desires are reawakened. For a short time he makes her feel alive and youthful. She has been lonely her whole life but she is aware of the importance of love and gives advice accordingly.
Beauty and appearances are recurring themes in Picnic. Everyone thinks life is easy when you’re pretty but it comes with its own set of problems that is not always easy to see. Several characters hide behind their outward appearance but slowly struggle to break free from their self-made masks and no longer fear the opinions of society. With a well-rounded cast of characters, Picnic delivers the promise of romance as well as being a commentary on our multi-faceted society.
Showtimes: June 19th, 20th and 21st at 7:30 p.m..