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On Theater: 'Picnic' still filling after 60 years

November 12, 2013|By Tom Titus
  • The cast of "Picnic" at Westminster Community Theatre.
The cast of "Picnic" at Westminster Community… (Greg Newcomb )

While other famed playwrights (Williams, Miller, O'Neill, Faulkner) staked out various sections of America (South, New England, West) for their fictional settings, William Inge looked to his own roots in the Midwest, where most of his many dramas are located.

His most famous tale is "Picnic," which won Inge the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and introduced Kim Novak to movie audiences in 1955. It is this mid-century period that informs most of Inge's writing and overshadows the failures and frustrations of his characters.

The Westminster Community Theatre currently is reviving Inge's magnum opus, casting some actors against type and probing deeply into the characters' disturbed psyches. Director Lenore Stjerne has elicited some indelible performances in her intimate staging of this classic drama.

The central character of Hal Carter, a rough-hewn but well-meaning drifter, usually is depicted as a powerfully built, macho type with a short fuse. At WCT, Chris McClary is more slight of physique than the well-off college chum he arrives in Kansas to visit, but he's a coiled spring of restrained outrage, fighting his inner demons as he connects with his friend's best girl in a life-changing moment.

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Jennifer Whitney is more subdued and less glamorous than her character of Madge generally is portrayed. She projects an aura of enforced normalcy opposite Hal's bravado, and the combination meshes surprisingly well as she experiences her first real taste of romance.

Her tomboyish little sister, Millie, played by Jennifer Bales, undergoes a startling transformation, from jeans and pigtails in the first act to a true raven-haired beauty in the second, her newfound glitter masking the fact that she's still an unformed teenage girl experimenting recklessly with alcohol. Apart from a tendency to rush her dialogue, Bales delivers a memorable performance.

Joan Meissenburg renders the most honest and heartfelt character as Flo, the girls' mother, who survived a bad marriage and strives to prevent her daughters from experiencing her fate. Her unfulfilled neighbor, played by Barb Turino, also projects a natural Midwestern flair, delighting in the young people's antics.

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