It’s difficult to imagine that the classic William Inge 1953 play PICNIC was awarded a Pulitzer Prize after seeing this unacceptable, clumsy and clunky production at the American Airlines Theatre produced by the inconsistent Roundabout Theatre Company.
Taking place in a small Kansas town in the 1950’s where the women are hungry and not for the potato salad they are preparing for the Labor Day annual picnic we see them literally salivate over the new hunky hired hand Hal Carter (Sebastian Stan with forced charisma) as he struts and poses with his torso bared and oiled as he hauls some wood off stage helping out Mrs. Potts (a believable Ellen Burstyn) who has hired him – mainly to look at it seems. They are all starved for affection and sex. Where’s Carrie Bradshaw when you need her?
Not much work is accomplished in the communal yard she shares with Mrs. Owens (Mare Winningham) who has two daughters – the pretty one Madge (Maggie Grace) and the tom boyish and bookish Millie (a terrific Madeline Martin) whose one desire is to get out of town and go to New York. No one can blame her for that.
Hal has come to town to seek work from his “frat” buddy – Alan Seymour (Ben Rappaport) whose family has connections and money. But poor Alan who is going steady with Madge (mom advising her to marry him ASAP) doesn’t feel that he could ever be worthy of her and she feels that she is too pretty to fit in. That is, until she meets up with Hal. Too bad they have no sexual tension or chemistry going on – it’s a case of the sizzle fizzling. Hal too, has “fit in” problems. They all do. Inge might have called the play THE MISFITS.
Living in the same house is the “old maid school teacher” Rosemary (a marvelous Elizabeth Marvel) who longs to marry Howard (a forlorn Reed Birney) a shopkeeper who needs liquor to get his juices flowing. Their story is the most interesting and I remember vividly seeing Rosalind Russell in the movie version when I was ten. What I was doing at PICNIC at ten I don’t remember. But I do remember her performance and Ms. Marvel matches it.
I also remember the music. The theme from PICINIC combined with MOONGLOW. It was sublime. And a bit of that might have helped as the choice of music here is annoying to say the least.
The awful set by Andrew Lieberman would probably get a D is set design class. It’s cramped and that back wall that the Owens house abuts is ridiculous as their second floor goes right through it.
The usually spot on director Sam Gold should have caught that. In addition, his awkward staging makes this PICNIC almost unbearable.
One bright spot: Chris Perfetti as the newspaper delivery boy, Bomber Gutzel, who exhibits all of the adolescent charm and horniness without going overboard in his desire to woo Madge. He’s delightful.
Through February 24th. Go see THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD instead. That’s a real feast.
www.RoundaboutTheatre.org Photos: Joan Marcus
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