Presented by the Village Playhouse
Sept. 7-22, 8 p.m.
Sun., Sept. 16, 3 p.m.
730 Coleman Blvd., Mt. Pleasant
Moving into its seventh season, the Village Repertory Company continues its tradition of staging at least one contemporary classic each year with a solid production of William Inge's classic 1953 play, Picnic. Featuring several noteworthy performances and yet another magical transformation of the Playhouse stage, this is a meat-and-potatoes script solid and satisfying. Picnic is the ultimate end-of-summer play, set on Labor Day weekend in the joined backyard of two houses in small town Kansas where a young, sexy drifter named Hal makes his appearance.
Keely Enright, co-founder of the Village Playhouse, directs this production and performs a memorable supporting role as the old maid schoolteacher, Rosemary Sydney. Inge grew up living among three such women in his mother's boardinghouse in Kansas and once said, "I saw their attempts (at happiness), and, even as a child, I sensed every woman's failure. I began to sense their sorrow and the emptiness of their lives, and it touched me." Enright embodies this notion, giving a poignant desperation to the role as she clings to what may be her last chance at love and happiness in the form of her boyfriend Harold, played with a deft touch by the talented Jeff Jordan. The final scene between the two actors as Rosemary begs Harold to marry her after their night together is riveting.
Two other performances, also supporting roles, deserve mention. Katherine Chaney Long plays Millie Owens, a bookworm living in the shadow of Madge, her beauty queen sister. Long aptly conveys the jealousy, insecurity, and resentfulness the role requires. Samille Basler plays Helen Potts, an older woman living alone with her mother, who takes in the young handsome stranger that starts all the trouble for the small community. Basler's pedigree is almost as long as the plays, and it shows. She easily embodies the yearning spinster who wants something exciting in her life, something that will, as her character says, "make me feel like a woman again."
Unfortunately, the supporting roles, powerful script, and beautiful, functional set, also designed by Enright, are the best parts of the play. The lead actors are somewhat mechanical in their delivery. The lover's triangle of Madge, her doting boyfriend Alan, and the unscrupulous handsome newcomer Hal lacks any chemistry. While some long kisses are shared on stage and quite a few innuendos of lust pump up the script, no sparks fly between the three actors. When the older women lust after the sculpted youth as he works shirtless in the backyard, they do it so well there should have been drool running down their chins. If the leads could muster such intensity, this production could not get much better.
Picnic is a snapshot of a bygone era. Risqué for its time, it seems almost mild compared in our modern world. The blunt sexuality of the script is often what playbills tout, yet it misses the point of Inge's strong writing. Enright and her talented company manage to deliver a well-rounded production that captures the emptiness and sorrow of the lives of the women in the play.