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Director having a 'picnic' with Inge's characters

September 04, 2003

Tom Titus

Three days before the Huntington Beach Playhouse opened its

production of William Inge's play "Bus Stop" two years ago, the

terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon riveted

the play's cast and crew -- including my daughter Mindy, who was

playing the young counter girl.

Terri Miller Schmidt, who directed that production, is crossing

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her fingers that no such tragedy happens during her next run at the

playhouse. She's back at the Huntington Beach Playhouse and putting

another Inge drama, the modern classic "Picnic," together for an

opening night of Sept. 12.

This time around, distance is the primary concern for the veteran

director.

"The roles of Madge, Millie and Alan will be performed by a

terrific trio of actors who travel all the way from Studio City,

Hollywood and Beverly Hills to play these parts," she said. "I'm a

very lucky director to be able to work with them."

In doing research for the show, Schmidt found that playwright

Inge's mother owned a boarding house when he was 4 and that he had

many fond memories of the three schoolteachers who lived there.

In "Picnic," one of the major characters is a spinster schoolmarm

whose two fellow teachers show up to accompany her to school.

Schmidt found a passage Inge wrote that explained his thoughts on

this: "I sensed every woman's thoughts of failure and it touched and

saddened me to witness the perceived emptiness of their lives."

"I have spent a lot of time with the character studies with this

cast," Schmidt said. "We constantly stop our rehearsals to discuss

yet another moment of Inge 'holding up the mirror' for us all to see

ourselves as we were back then, through his characters.

"I have found it especially interesting to witness the struggles

with our younger women in the cast to understand the desperation of

the women of the 1950s if there was not a man in their lives. We have

spent many moments discussing the difference for them as women of

today, with all the choices they have."

Schmidt notes that it's also interesting to discuss with the men

in the cast their roles in Inge's life studies.

"They also find it difficult to relate to the 'conflicts' of men

of that generation," she said. "The actors playing Hal (David Farkas)

and Alan (Chad Bartulis) have had many moments of recognizing how

different their lives are.

"It's been fun to watch the reaction to the development of the

Howard Bevan character (Tony Grande) and how he appears to feel

trapped into marrying Rosemary (Sheryl Wynne)."

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