FULLERTON — On the surface, William Inge's "Picnic" is deceptively simple. And in its structure and the clarity of its written characters, it is.
The play also is a very good one for letting young actors stretch their technical muscles. The youthful company in Fullerton College's production, while not always having the emotional heft for the older characters, does well. There are some good character actors here. Their time will come.
The exceptional scenic design by Robert Jensen and Dan Miller--the back yard shared by Helen Potts and Flo Owens--is right in every detail and impressive in its attention to reality and the visual focus it gives the production.
Pamela Richarde's direction serves the play with strong dramatic focus and a great deal of affection. It shows in the gentleness of her moods, the vigor of her subtly changing rhythms and the lucid portraits she has drawn from her actors.
Dyan Hobday's Flo is solidly the Midwestern, small-town mother, first denying the failure of her marriage in order to protect her daughters, finally able to admit her mistakes so daughter Madge won't make the same.
Melanie Baker's younger daughter Millie is buoyant and delightful, and if she tries to make her more of a kid than necessary, it works. Older sister Madge couldn't be more right than in April Peterson's restrained, well-shaded performance, just barely still naive, with the same fires beneath the surface that led her mother to her marital misstep.
The best performance in the production is in the detail and rich comic patina of Gavin Carlton's Howard Bevans, the shopkeeper who won't be rushed into marrying Flo's schoolteacher boarder, Rosemary, but finally succumbs. Carlton deserves his laughs and the strong empathy from the audience.
Kristen Walters, as Rosemary, is at her best in her scenes with Carlton. In acting, one actor feeds another, and Walters is well-nourished in these moments, reflecting Carlton's depth.
James Balma hits all the right buttons as Hal Carter, the wandering failure who sets the ladies all atwitter in their barren, small-town existence. Balma is missing the one ingredient that makes Inge's anti-hero memorable: He's simply too nice and squeaky clean. Inge's point is that women are attracted to the scent of danger in a man, and Balma seems no more dangerous than his wealthy ex-roommate from college, Alan.
Matthew Agosto is a properly weak-kneed little prig as Alan, Kelly Fullerton just fluttery enough as neighbor Helen, and Jennifer Harrison and Stacy Gale make fairly typical stereotypes of Rosemary's teacher friends. Ian Johnson is on target with his spunky, wise-guy paperboy Bomber, a kid lusting beyond his years.
\o7 * "Picnic," Bronwyn Dodson Theatre, Fullerton College, 321 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton. Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Sunday. $5-$8. (714) 871-8101. Running time: 2 hours.\f7
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Kelly Fullerton: Helen Potts
James Balma: Hal Carter
Melanie Baker: Millie Owens
Ian Johnson: Bomber
April Peterson: Madge Owens
Dyan Hobday: Flo Owens
Kristen Walters: Rosemary Sydney
Matthew Agosto: Alan Seymour
Jennifer Harrison: Irma Kronkite
Stacy Gayle: Christine Schoenwalder
Gavin Carlton: Howard Bevans
A Fullerton College Theatre Arts Department production of William Inge's drama. Directed by Pamela Richarde. Scenic design: Robert Jensen, Dan Miller. Property design/scenic artist: Barbara Meyer. Lighting design: Vincent Gallegos. Sound design: Jim Book, Adrian G. Romo. Costume design: Maria Wortham. Makeup/hair/wig design: Patrick Varon. Stage manager: Simeon Denk.