William Inge’s 1953 Pulitzer Prize winning play, pre Feminist and post war, sweats into Labor Day with the sound of an inbound freight. The Potts family and the Ownenses share a back yard. Robert Selander’s terrific set is a nice reproduction of a modest home complete with tree and sky and a swing. Kitty Swink as Helen Potts, a single woman in her middle age who tends her aging mother, enters in curlers and a house dress. The Potts and the Owens have been neighbors for a long time and convene with casual friendship. Labor Day is coming and with it, on that train that just blew through, some trouble and some changes. The simplicity of the playwright’s message may not have seemed so simple sixty years ago when women of a certain age had expectations of them. Matriarch Flo Owens, senses trouble when she sees Helen’s new helper. Flo rents rooms to teachers and raises her two daughters. Millie (Conner Kelly-Eiding) is a feminist in waiting as she reads Carson McCullers’ Ballad of the Sad Café. Elder, prettier sister Madge (Jordan Monaghan), becomes the eye of the hurricane coming closer as the picnic comes together.
Flo has her eye on the trouble that is brewing in the person of newly arrived Hal Carter (Daniel Bess).
It’s Hal, shirtless, with striking pecs that sets some hearts a flutter and it’s through Hal whom we see right off the bat that things are going to change. Flo has high hopes for daughter Madge, who at eighteen is working at the five and dime and is being courted by a well to do townie, Alan Seymour (Ross Philips). Their embers are not glowing brightly and dim even more the minute that Madge and Hal lay eyes on one another.
Inge’s characters all have their pathways set and he manipulates them in not an unexpected way. It’s the fifties and director Cameron Watson has taken care to steep the actors deeply in the times. Haircuts and costumes by Terri A. Lewis are right on. Opening night pace took time to percolate, but once things got rolling, the steam from Hal and Madge was palpable. A well done B plot exposes the frustrations of lonely school teacher, Rosemary Sydney (Gigi Bermingham), ‘the old maid school teacher.’ She becomes compromised with beau, Howard Bevans (John DeMita), whose introduction of a bottle of whiskey to the party expand the notion of In Vino Veritas far beyond the pale. Rosemary hijacks the show briefly while in her cups. To save face in local society, she must not be caught in an indiscretion and better yet, should really be married.
The driving force of the wild man, Hal Carter, former football star at the same college where he was in a fraternity with Alan Seymour, moves like a freight train through the play. Alan is, at first, surprised and happy to see his old pal who tells him that he, Hal, was ‘one authentic hero!’ To which Hal in unexpected candor replies, “only between the goal posts…” The double entendre of the statement takes a while to sink in. Hal is a rake and ramblin’ boy. Madge is ripe for the picking. The picnic is all checkered gingham with a dark underbelly that Antaes exposes with élan. It’s a good production of a good play. Dated. Classic. Inge’s clearly written characters work out their issues in unsurprising ways. The passions and the jealousies and the individual arcs of each of these simple folks make for an enjoyable evening in the Theatre!
PICNIC by William Inge
Antaeus Theatre Company
5112 Lankershim Boulevard
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Tuesdays through Sundays
June 26 through August 15, 2015
For tickets and information
818 506 1983 / www.Antaeus.com