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Roundabout Theatre Company Presents "Picnic" by William Inge at the American Airlines Theatre
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Roundabout Theatre Company Presents "Picnic" by William Inge at the American Airlines Theatre

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Roundabout Theatre Company
Todd Haimes, Artistic Director
Harold Wolpert, Managing Director
Julia C. Levy, Executive Director

In Association with Darren Bagert and Martin Massman

Reed Birney, Maggie Grace, Elizabeth Marvel,
Sebastian Stan, Mare Winningham
Ellen Burstyn

By William Inge
Directed by Sam Gold

Madeleine Martin, Ben Rappaport,
Cassie Beck, Maddie Corman,
Lizbeth Mackay, Chris Perfetti

At the
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 47th Street

Set Design: Andrew Lieberman
Costume Design: David Zinn
Lighting Design: Jane Cox
Sound Design: Jill BC Du Boff
Hair & Wig Design: Tom Watson
Fight Director: Christian Kelly Sordelet
Choreography: Chase Brock
Dialect Coach: Kate Wilson
Production Stage Manager: Jill Cordle
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA/Carrie Gardner, CSA
“Picnic” General Manager: Denise Cooper
Press: Polk and Company
Assoc. Managing Director: Greg Backstrom
Director of Marketing & Audience Dvpt.: Tom O’Connor
General Manager: Sydney Beers
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Assoc. Artistic Director: Scott Ellis

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 17, 2013

The new Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of William Inge’s Picnic is one of this Broadway Season’s glowing successes. I did not want this show to end, and that’s not because of the stunning, bare-chested physique of Sebastian Stan, as Hal Carter (more about that below), but because this fine ensemble of twelve had such fine chemistry, such finely detailed characterization, and such fine delivery of lyrically rhythmic lines, that they almost seemed like a choreographed dance ensemble, as the mesmerizing story unfolded. Andrew Lieberman’s transporting, picturesque set is the front sides of two 1950’s Kansas clapboard homes, with the shared yard of middle-aged women, alone, Flo Owens (Mare Winningham) and Helen Potts (Ellen Burstyn). It’s Labor Day, and Flo and Helen are helping to host a picnic for their family and friends. A guitarist is hired, the air is balmy, and the only male we’ve seen is an annoying paper delivery guy, Bomber Gutzel (Chris Perfetti), who chases after Flo’s model-figured, porcelain daughter, Madge (Maggie Grace). Another middle-aged woman alone is schoolteacher, Rosemary Sydney (Elizabeth Marvel), a boarder in Flo’s home. Flo’s second daughter, the younger, smart and perky Millie (Madeline Martin), scampers about with her books.

The scene is set for hormonal fireworks, as in walks Hal Carter, a vagrant yard worker, hired by Helen to clear brush and flex muscle. Immediately, Helen, Flo, Rosemary, Madge, and especially Millie are fanning heat from their skin. Hal could have melted from fresh fire in their bellies. Hal and Madge lock eyes, but Helen has dreams of Madge laying an immediate trap for Alan Seymour (Ben Rappaport), the town’s wealthy, college frat guy, who’s soon heading back to campus. As the dialogue unfolds, Hal and Alan cross paths in this now very hot front yard, and, at first, they are embracing as long lost fraternity brothers, while, later on, arm embraces turn to fist fight, as Hal and Alan vie for Madge, with opposite levels of seduction. Madge, who was so torn at being sought for her elegance and beauty, wishing for Millie’s wit and intellect, morphs into another fanning female. A recurrent sub-plot involves Rosemary’s hidden desire for a man to take home, and she games it in her own private picnic, with her longtime boyfriend, Howard Bevans (Reed Birney). Her repartee with two schoolteacher friends, Irma Kronkite (Maddie Corman) and Christine Schoenwalder (Cassie Beck), is priceless. A final offstage character is Helen Potts’ mother, vocalized by Lizbeth Mackay, as if upstairs in the Potts homestead, demanding attention.

It’s those few bleating calls from upstairs that highlight the bleak, predictable existence of Helen and Flo. Rosemary has her man to work on, but Helen and Flo have only Hal’s fit chest to gaze upon for the memory bank. Sam Gold has directed with acute poignancy and expanded pauses, so meaningful dialogue drips like late summer rain, to absorb, to feel. Ellen Burstyn plays the settled, pragmatic, wise and wistful Helen with seasoned grace and spirited compassion. Mare Winningham plays the mother, who aspires for so much more for her daughters than she was granted in small-town Kansas, with magnificent depth and warmth. Her reaction to Madge’s longing for Hal was measured with reason and fear, not anger or insult. Ms. Winningham managed the moment with persuasive angst. Maggie Grace as Madge was winsome and ingénue, then womanly and impetuous. Madeline Martin as Millie, too, emerged stronger and self-aware, as the events of the Labor Day picnic swept her up. Sebastian Stan will certainly enjoy a bright future on Broadway, as he was so much more of an actor, beyond his magnetic muscularity. His monologues about his youth and subsequent longing for Madge were wrenching. Elizabeth Marvel used out-sized camp and facial gestures as Rosemary to woo the audience, and her drinking scene was evocative of “I Love Lucy”. Ben Rappaport was a compelling Alan, torn in 1950’s mores and revenge. Costumes, sound, and lighting were appropriate and well-conceived, while Chase Brock’s choreography added to the rhythms of this remarkable ensemble. Kudos to William Inge.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at