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Saturday, 19 January 2013 17:00

Broadway Review: PICNIC

Written by
Mare Winningham (l) and Maggie Grace Mare Winningham (l) and Maggie Grace Photo: Joan Marcus

The new production of William Inge’s Picnic at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre is a tepid, sexually uncharged, production. Thankfully there are plenty of pretty “things” to distract you from the blandness of the production. Pretty is a major theme throughout the play. Picnic is a throwback to a time when a woman’s idea of aspiring to something was to catch a man. Pretty was important, but smarts, not so much.

Our leading man, the young drifter, Hal Carter (Sebastian Stan), has come to this small Kansas town to see his old fraternity brother, Alan (Ben Rappaport).  Mr. Stan delights the audience, and the ladies onstage, with a lovely set of abs that appear to have been oiled up just before curtain.  He finds miscellaneous yard clean-up work at the home of the lonely Mrs. Helen Potts (Ellen Burstyn).  She’s smitten with this young man (and let’s face it, who in the theatre isn’t) and makes no bones about it.  This is much to the consternation of her neighbor Flo Owens (Mare Winningham) who is trying to raise two very proper young ladies, alone.  Madge (Maggie Grace) is the eldest and the “pretty one,” as she is constantly reminded, and always in front of her younger sister, Millie (Madeleine Martin).  Living with the Owens is Rosemary (Elizabeth Marvel), a schoolmarm who can feel her life slipping through her fingers without that penultimate goal, a man.

As Hal strikes various poses during his exhausting yard work, young Madge, whose hormones are raging, takes notice (as does her little sis).  The only problem is, Madge is going steady with Hal’s college buddy, Alan.

Unfortunately, Mr. Stan’s performance as Hal is not unskilled, it just isn’t honed.  He had an eagerness to him, reminiscent of a young acting student.  Ms. Grace handles Madge skillfully and with nuance.  As her younger sister, Millie, Ms. Martin thrives in the tomboy role.  Mare Winningham as their mother Flo is quiet and intense.

Ms. Marvel as Rosemary has painted her character with the broad stroke of a Carol Burnett skit.  But Marvel finds the depth of the character at the top of act two when she pleads with her boyfriend Howard (Reed Birney) to marry her.  She will break your heart.  The role of Howard is the mirror image of the female stereotype.  There is the expectation that the man will take care of the woman (read: saddled with).  Mr. Birney does the "put upon man" with a perfect mix of subtlety and anxiety.

Unfortunately, the chemistry among this ensemble hasn’t coalesced.  Sam Gold’s direction and the performances he engenders from his actors don’t lend this show the necessary sexual or dramatic tension.  Even as we watch Hal and Madge kissing on top of one another in the yard, there is no feeling of risk, that they might get caught.  There is also no feeling of passion from these moments.

The play’s set is beautifully designed by Andrew Lieberman.  When you enter the theatre you are taken aback by the scale of it, a Kansas farmhouse and a smaller neighboring house.  Mr. Lieberman’s set is detailed and practical. 

While this production may have its shortcomings, fault can’t be placed fully at the feet of the director or the cast.  Picnic is a 60-year old play with a 60-year old sensibility.  In a society that has become desensitized to sex, this play no longer has the edge it did in 1953. 

View full production credits at

Additional Info

  • Theatre: American Airlines Theatre
  • Theatre Address: 227 West 42nd St. New York, NY 10036
  • Show Style: Play
  • Previews:: December 14, 2012
  • Opening Night: January 13, 2013
  • Closing: February 24, 2013
Last modified on Tuesday, 30 April 2013 13:14