Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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Time Out Theater Review: "Picnic"

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The 1953 Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Picnic" returns to Broadway, courtesy of the Roundabout Theater Company. Time Out New York's David Cote filed the following report for NY1.

Back in the 1950s, playwright William Inge had a string of Broadway hits, but he fell out of fashion by the end of the decade. Well, maybe we’re ready for an Inge revival.

In recent seasons, we've had excellent productions of his melancholy domestic dramas "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" and "Come Back, Little Sheba". Now. there’s the Roundabout's sensuous, dreamy and deeply affecting "Picnic".

Staged by the always surprising Sam Gold, who also directed a lean, brutal "Look Back in Anger" last year, "Picnic" captures the essence of its retro period and small-town Kansas locale, without being slavishly tied to realism. So when Sebastian Stan, playing a handsome drifter who gets tangled up with the town beauty, whips off his shirt to reveal a 21st-century set of abs, you can either go with it or cry foul.

The truth is, Stan's character, Hal, is dangerously attractive to the women in the play and he should also seduce the audience. Maggie Grace, the willowy blonde beauty who plays Madge, is equally stunning. To be sure, these young actors are not polished, but their coltishness, the slight slippage between actor and role, works.

Gold mixes his newcomers with stage veterans such as Ellen Burstyn, playing an old maid next-door neighbor; brassy Elizabeth Marvel as a middle-age school teacher desperate for a husband; and Mare Winningham as a fretful mother who wants Madge to rise in the world. Inge’s low-key lyricism blends heartache and hope, centering on insecure youths and regretful adults, all torn between repression and escape. It’s a gossamer tone, and Gold and his actors capture it.

Rich in pathos, attuned to its period but still fresh and, above all, dangerously sexy, "Picnic" is a theatrical feast.

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