Wright State University commendably stages William Inge’s 1953 Pulitzer Prize-winning romantic drama “Picnic,” an authentically engaging slice of life about family, friendship, love and regret boiling over on a hot Labor Day weekend in 1950s Kansas.
The tall, lanky and handsome Riley Able is a personable focal point as Hal Carter, a drifter who sets hearts aflutter in the shared backyard of Flo Owens (Tess Talbot, reminiscent of a young Judith Ivey) and Helen Potts (an excellent Kelsey Hopkins). Hal, a former football hero with a troubled past, has grown accustomed to making women swoon, but finally finds what he’s looking for in Flo’s pretty daughter Madge (Stephanie Tucker), the girlfriend of wholesome Alan Seymour (Greg Mallios), Hal’s college friend.
“Picnic,” which opened Thursday, February 17 delicately directed by Marya Spring Cordes, thrives on its central love triangle, and there is palpable chemistry between Able and Tucker, particularly during an impromptu dance that hints at the sexual fireworks to come. Tucker fully conveys Madge’s soul-searching essence and supplies an emotional tug-of-war as her pivotal choice of suitor begins to blur. The moment of truth arises in a flustered frenzy which Tucker wonderfully infuses with touching optimism. The appealing Able, astutely remembering Hal doesn’t feel comfortable being “natural,” exudes a charming, sunny bravado that rarely wanes. Mallios, an effectively straight-laced contrast, is especially strong late in the play when Alan’s aims turn to betrayal.
Along withMallios, Talbot and Hopkins (who is heartbreaking in the final minutes when Helen recalls her fondness for Hal), fine featured portrayals stem from the delightful Chelsey Cavender as sassy tomboy Millie Owens, Becca Frick and Dani Cox as respective teachers Irma Kronkite and Christine Schoenwalder, Joey Monda as paperboy Bomber and the voice of Helen’s mother, and Valerie Reaper as the opinionated Rosemary Sydney, who fears growing old and is desperate to wed Howard Bevans (Zach Schute). The ladies are particularly clothed in striking period designs by D. Bartlett Blair, and Nicholas Crumbley’s lovely lighting design is also a plus.
Picnic continues through Sunday, February 27 in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Fairborn. Performances are Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Act One: 80 minutes; Act Two: 38 minutes. Tickets are $17 and $19. For tickets or more information, call (937) 775-2500.
In related news, Wright State is in need of storage space for sets and props. “We want and need to recycle our sets, reuse major portions in future shows, as a major way of economizing and being more green,” said W. Stuart McDowell, chair and artistic director of WSU’s Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures. McDowell, who will stage WSU’s Ohio collegiate premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera in spring 2012, can be reached by phone at (937) 775-3784 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org