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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 12, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 28
Picnic's themes still ring true
Arts & Entertainment
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Picnic's themes still ring true

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

PICNIC
REACT THEATRE
RICHARD HUGO HOUSE
Through August 3rd


William Inge was a Gay playwright, writing his most well-known works in the 1950s. He knew small town America and grew up in Kansas. In fact, he became known as the Playwright of the Midwest, based on his portrayals of the middle of our country.

His play, Picnic (opening on Broadway in 1953), won the Pulitzer Prize and was based on his mother's boardinghouse where she boarded local teachers when he was small.

Picnic and later Bus Stop, made famous by Marilyn Monroe's touching portrayal, were made into movies, along with Dark at the Top of the Stairs.

Picnic is an intimate story of small town neighbors with small time aspirations.

There are themes present in Picnic that easily apply today and are the major focus of the story. Beauty and the need to marry well when young are front and center, and while there has been laudable progress over the years, any TV commercial will remind you that beauty sells. There is also a class divide, and that focus is particularly well set off by the current production by ReAct Theatre, now at Richard Hugo House.

The freshest aspect of ReAct's production is its multi-ethnic casting, and then a complete silence in the text to refer to the ethnicity in any way. Of course, in the 1950s, an Asian-American family with daughters might live happily next to an African-American family, but not likely also be allowed to date the cream of the male scions of the Cauca-sian-American small town aristocracy. However, that is the lovely case of this production.

Flo Owens (Kathy Hsieh, until a cast switch on July 26 to Mariko Kita), a single mother of Madge (Alexa Oo) and Millie (Sara L. Porkalob), lives next door to Helen Potts (Faith Russell), who spices up her caretaker-of-mom tedium by taking in male drifters from time to time. Flo had a disastrous marriage, though it was begun in love, and now supports the family partly by having teachers live with her.

Nikki Visel plays Rosemary, one such teacher, who defiantly declares what tedium marriage is, while desperately hoping her last chance, Howard the storekeeper (Mark Waldstein), will marry her. The schoolteachers represent a '50s dichotomy: women who had substantial jobs and could support themselves, but who still felt their worth was predicated on whether they had a man to marry.

Complications arise from Helen's invitation to a drifter, a very, very, very good-looking drifter who claims to be a friend of the rich boy from school. Hal (William Poole) has had a rough life, but wants to better himself. In this production, there is a hint that Hal and Alan the rich boy (Trevor Cushman) might like each other a little more than even they themselves think. Then they end up vying for the same 'pretty' girl, Madge.

Young Mr. Poole certainly has the requisite abs for the role, and also is able to portray an accidental bad boy. While Oo perks up around him, still the passion portion of the plotline needs a bit more juice to spice the play up. It's nostalgically directed by David Hsieh, but the heat could have been more specific and more uncomfortably hot.

Both men and women will enjoy the eye candy, but whether the play itself has enough to offer a modern audience will be in the eye of the beholder.



For more information, go to www.reacttheatre.org or www.picnic.brownpapertickets.com or call 800-838-3006.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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