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Power of 'Picnic' withstands test of time

October 14, 2005|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

When first produced on Broadway in 1953, William Inge's "Picnic" won that year's Pulitzer for drama and was subsequently made into a 1955 film starring Kim Novak and William Holden.

Inge's period portrait of small-town American life revolves around a beauty queen whose secure life is disrupted, perhaps tragically, by a ne'er-do-well drifter who sweeps her off her feet and away to an uncertain future.

Although hot stuff in its day, the play's "steamy" sexual inferences may now seem merely quaint.

However, "Picnic" still holds considerable power, if only as a nostalgic portrait of a bygone era. And although his blatant Freudian subtexts occasionally pall, Inge's gentle yet pointed humor withstands the test of time.

The excellent production now at A Noise Within features James P. Taylor's acute lighting, Ron Wyand's softly unobtrusive sound design and Jennifer Brawn Gittings' splendid period costumes.

Michael C. Smith's well-realized set -- a small backyard squeezed between two modest frame houses -- contains a raised garden inside a whitewashed truck tire, a telling, tacky indication that the folks who live here are putting a brave face on reduced circumstances.

Although Inge's closely knit small-towners know one another's business to a fault, they are largely an emotionally isolated lot whose lives have passed them by.

Archetypes abound -- the spinster schoolmarm out to snag a man, the adored town beauty, the plain, brainy bookworm, the spoiled rich boy, the handsome but feckless stud.

Yet under director Craig Belknap's astute guidance, these performers find the human depths beneath their sometimes obvious stereotypes. Mary Boucher rings wisely true as Flo Owens, an abandoned wife who is desperate to convert her older daughter's evanescent beauty into cold, hard security.

The ever-excellent Deborah Strang finds the pathos beneath her deceptively jolly schoolteacher, who is grasping at her very last chance for happiness. Mark Bramhall is also terrific as a confirmed bachelor happily undone by a combination of alcohol, a full moon and his own essential kindness.

As Madge, the beauty trapped in her own cloying perfection, Libby West shows spirit and range but is unfortunately miscast. Although attractive, West lacks the indispensable youth and luminosity required for this difficult role. Alternately rollicking and pathetic, Bo Foxworth appeals and appalls as the virile drifter who lights Madge's sexual fuse, with explosive results.

However, the joyful standout of this production is Jennifer DeCastroverde as Madge's gawky younger sister, Millie. A delightfully cerebral wise child languishing in Madge's shadow, Millie promises to bloom perennially long after Madge's rose is blown.



Where: A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale

When: Plays in repertory. Call for schedule.

Ends: Nov. 27

Price: $32 to $36

Contact: (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

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