UNCSA’s Picnic captures essence of Inge’s classic drama

by Keith Barber

What do you do with the love you feel?” Madge Owens, played by UNC School of the Arts senior Ali Bill, asks her mother, Flo, in William Inge’s play, Picnic. Madge’s question to Flo, played by Rebecca Wolf, gets at the very heart of the conflict in the 1953 Broadway hit play currently being revived by UNCSA’s production at the Catawba Theatre at Performance Place. The show runs through Nov. 21 with nightly shows at 8 p.m.

Bill skillfully captures the complexity and innocence of the character whose world is turned upside down when a handsome stranger arrives in her small Kansas town. Hal Carter, played by Drew Madland, begins working for Madge’s neighbor, Helen Potts, on the day of the annual town picnic. The plot thickens when Helen, played by Magdalene Vick, suggests Hal accompany Madge’s younger sister, Millie, to the picnic. Madland and Bill did a masterful job inhabiting the roles once made famous by William Holden and Kim Novak in the 1955 film. But it is Jasmine Anne Osborne, who plays Millie, who commands the stage in the UNCSA production. Osborne plays the intellectual, artistic little sister with a level of commitment rarely seen in young thespians. Osborne’s irrepressible energy and powerful stage presence dazzled audiences attending Picnic’s opening night on Nov. 13.

In a classic sibling rivalry, Millie envies Madge’s natural beauty and the attention she receives from all the boys, while Madge envies Millie’s sharp mind and brilliant intellect. But Madge’s envy of her younger sister is not the core conflict of her life. Because of her exquisite beauty, Madge has been told that the best she can hope for is to marry well. Her young suitor, Alan Seymour, is her perfect match in her mother’s eyes. Alan, played by Brandon T. Harris, comes from a good family that belongs to the country club, and he is in awe of Madge’s stunning looks. As for Millie, she’s far too much of a tomboy to catch a husband, so she’s told to work hard in school and earn a scholarship to college. Ultimately, Picnic is a story about women who struggle to break free from the social norms so prevalent in 1950’s America.

Ms. Potts, who cares for her elderly mother, would be considered an old maid by the standards of the times. Flo Owens is a widow whose life is confined to caring for her teenage daughters. And Rosemary Sydney, a librarian at the local high school, is on her way to becoming an old maid. Hal Carter catches the eye of Madge, Millie, Flo and Rosemary in the opening scene, and the wheels are set in motion that ultimately lead to the play’s climax.

Directed by Laura Henry, a founding faculty member of the Gately/Poole Acting Studio in New York, Picnic utilizes the theatre-in-the-round space of the Catawba Theatre in a very creative fashion. The scenic design of Charles Murdock Lucas is bare bones but effectively establishes the mood and the world of the play’s characters. At times, the lighting design makes the actors appear almost pale to the point of being translucent, but overall, all the moving parts the UNCSA production work very well together.

Madge and Hal begin to feel a powerful attraction during an entertaining dancing scene, but Millie and Rosemary have too much too drink. This leads to Hal being chastised by Flo and Rosemary for being a no-account bum, and Hal begins to doubt himself. His moment of introspection touches Madge, and their tender exchange spins the story off in a new direction, which leads to a confrontation between Hal and Alan.

Madge must decide between the predetermined direction of her life or the adventure of life that Hal embodies. She finally learns what to do with the love she feels, and the audience cheers her decision.

wanna go? UNCSA—Catawba Theatre Performance Place, 1533 S. Main St, Winston-Salem. 336-770-3340.

Drew Madland and Ali Bill play the lead roles of Hal Carter andMadge Owens in the UNC School of the Arts production of William Inge’sPicnic. (courtesy photo)