A view from the Cliff: “Picnic” at Brooklyn College

Location, location, location.

Pulitzer Prize winning playwright William Inge’s “Picnic” is a masterpiece of well placed characters. Their emotions and behaviors fit snugly among the farms of mid century Kansas. Can the perfomers deliver Inge’s message in 2015 with the power and presence that ruled seven decades ago?

The 1950s was an era of down to earth expectations confronted by repressed emotions and forced conformity. This paradox often triggered explosive reactions. Director Richard Hamburger generates this tension musically, visually and with his actors. Before curtain, several 1950s “hit parade” tunes are heard (Albona Bogdanovic sound design). There’s “If I knew you were comin’ I’d a baked a cake…” and “How much is that doggy in the window?”

Visually, the scenery is true to the smallest detail (Rebecca Grazi, set design). The milkman’s ubiquitous glass bottles sit outside the front door. A grassy yard separates two wooden houses, with a picnic table, a see-saw and some metal lawn chairs. Somehow you can feel an approaching whirlwind, emotional or physical.

Most of all, the casting is impeccable. Big, burly Hal Carter reveals bulging biceps, just as the script demands. His loud, pompous attitude belies a sensitive vulnerability.  It takes beautiful Madge Owens (Carolyn Coppedge) to unlock them. Ms. Coppedge generates a perfect sense of small town conformity, seductive rebelliousness and determination. Younger sister Millie (Lisa Campbell) gives a great performance as a paradoxical tomboy, bookworm and explosive rebel. Mischievous Bomber (Shomari Pinnock) playfully teases her.

Helen Potts (Isabelle Pierre) and Flo Owens (Audra Hans Tremain) are excellent as world weary, middle aged matriarchs. Alan Seymour is well played by Conor Sullivan. He compassionately befriends misfit Hal but is surprisingly pragmatic when Hal steals his girlfriend.

Spinster schoolteacher Rosemary Sydney (Stephanie King) personifies the frustration, fear and anguish that embodied many Americans during Inge’s era. Poor Howard Bevans (Richard McDonald) accepts her pleas to run away and get married. After all, a wedding ring is good for business. The good natured neighbors (Chrissy B. and Mildred Jones-Hamm) add a light touch to the performance. Applause as well to Isabelle Parzygnat (costumes), Shannon Kavanagh (lighting), Robert Tuftee (fight choreography), Laura Smith (dance choreography) and Clarissa Marie Ligon (stage manager).

To the entire cast’s credit, not one actor succumbed to the verbal affectations and trite mannerisms so common to contemporary productions. For information, try Facebook or surf to depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/theater/. As always, save me a seat on the aisle.


Photo courtesy of Brooklyn College Department of Theater
Photo courtesy of Brooklyn College Department of Theater

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