The Douglas Anderson School of the Arts opened a splendid revival of the Pulitzer Prize winner (1953) Picnic by William Inge, which opened April 12th, 2018. The production will remain on stage though April 20. For additional information and tickets, visit datheatreboosters.org.
William Inge’s career peaked in the 1950s as he wrote several successful plays about small-town life, earning the title of “Playwright of the Midwest.” His other well-known works include “Come Back Little Sheba,” “Bus Stop,” and “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.”
This production is in Douglas Anderson’s Black Box Theatre at the school’s campus in San Marco. We are always excited about reviewing a play in that venue, because we consistently find surprising creative sets used for the productions.
For Picnic, Scenic Designer Nolan O’Dell and Scenic Change Artist Susan Peters have built two modest frame houses, typical of those found in Midwestern homes from the era. The story takes place on the back porches and shared backyard of the homes. Ever want to visit a small Kansas town? Well, here you have it – you will love the green grass.
The action begins with a conversation between Mrs. Potts (Jade Collins), a generous widowed woman who spends her days caring for her invalid mother, and Hal (Simon Thomas), a young drifter who jumped from a passing train. She’s fixed breakfast for him and given him a job: he will be cleaning her yard. Hal is tall, handsome, and is soon sweating and shirtless in the late summer heat.
This catches the eye of the neighbors next door, where Flo (Mickenzie Lee), who is also widowed, lives with her two teenage daughters. Millie (Erin Elkins), the youngest, is very shy and very smart. Daughter Madge (Samantha Jenkins) is eighteen, and considered the most beautiful girl in town. Bomber (Scott Hall), the town’s newsboy, drops by on his bicycle, hoping to persuade Madge to go out with him, she’s not interested. Alan (Whit Hemphill), her steady boyfriend, is a college student, personable, handsome, and from a wealthy family. Flo wants very much for Madge and Alan to marry, hoping her daughter will avoid the many mistakes she made in her own marriage.
Alan and Hal greet each other; they were high school friends who played football together. However, that’s all they have in common, as Hal drinks heavily, and has no goals, skills, or future prospects.
The family is preparing for Neewollah, a festive Labor Day celebration. (Fun Fact: Neewollah is Halloween spelled backwards, and reportedly continues to be celebrated in Kansas).
A subplot concerns Rosemary (Madison Kiernan), a middle-aged school teacher who rents a room from Flo. Life is slipping away, and she wants something more exciting than socializing with her two amusing friends, teachers Natasha (Irma Kronkite) and Chloe (Christine Schoenwalder). She does have a man, at least a part-time man, who owns a business elsewhere. Howard (Lennon Myers) is a nice guy but he hasn’t given marriage much thought until Rosemary begins to plead with him to marry her. Soon. Tomorrow morning.
We soon find Hal dancing with Madge, she is clearly enamored, and we won’t have more to say about the unfolding story, as the policy of the Dual Critics is to avoid spoilers, especially when post-review performances are scheduled.
Director Simone Aden has done an exceptional job of casting and directing the production. Several of the performers were portraying much older characters but were totally believable through studied vocal control and the fine costuming of designer Krista Buffington.
Additional Picnic crew members included Hampton Keith and Kane Carter (Stage Managers); Jennifer Kilgore (Lighting Design); Simone Aden (Sound Design); Geoff Moss (Technical Direction); and Dance Captain (Mickenzie Lee).