Little big town
“Big people come out of small towns,” according to Kansas playwright William Inge. And a little prairie town—where teenagers dream of boarding a train for Topeka, Kan.; Chicago; or even New York—is the setting for Picnic, which is Inge’s most often produced play (winner of the Pulitzer for drama in 1953).
Actually, the characters in Picnic have souls that embody varying dimensions. There’s Flo Owens, a financially struggling single mom running a boarding house. Flo advises teen daughter Madge (the prettiest girl in town) to marry well before her beauty fades. And Flo has a guy in mind: Alan Seymour, the college-bound son of a local businessman. (He’s dull, but they’ve got several cars!)
However, a wandering young buck named Hal arrives on a freight, drawing Madge’s attention. Hal has “trouble” written all over him; he’s boastful, he’s from a white-trash background, and he got into college on a football scholarship but flunked out. Hal is often portrayed nowadays à la “young Elvis”—which is actor Danny Webber’s take. But Inge created Hal before Presley became a national phenom.
Every staging of Picnic—including this community production—hinges on the chemistry between Madge and Hal. He needs to be a beautiful loser—and buff when shirtless—so the audience can believe Madge could risk everything to have him.
Actress Lindsay Wigen (a Sacramento City College student) is cute ’n’ credible as Madge. Webber (of Solano College) is a tad self-conscious as Hal, but we’ll give him decent marks, mostly because there’s a tangible sizzle when they embrace.
There’s also a well-acted, semi-desperate courtship between an old-maid teacher (actress Marilyn McCrakin) and her shopkeeper beau (Dean Shellenberger). The sunset scene—featuring this older couple, Madge and Hal, and Madge’s spunky sister Millie (Alex Weir of Davis High School)—is the highlight of many productions of Picnic, including this one. Jeff Kean’s lighting hits that “evening glow” dead on.
Sandra McCord plays up worried experience as mama Flo. Georgeann Wallace is the neighbor Helen, living vicariously through the romances around her.
Doug Keowen’s set features two big, boxy houses that look impressive but encroach on the stage. Director Lydia Venables handles this ensemble play smoothly—the show runs two hours but feels shorter. This production offers few surprises for those familiar with the play, but it’s a clean interpretation for those wanting to experience it either again or for the first time.