I’m not generally opposed to watching fraternity brothers wrestle — especially when one is shirtless — but I also know that there’s a time and place for everything. In Peninsula Community Theater’s production of Picnic, the male homoeroticism comes in thick and fast, and feels out of step with the proceedings.
In addition to some line reads which imply the male leads are crossing corn cobs, there’s a wrestling scene that feels a little too Psycho Beach Party. Oh, and FYI: My straight date noticed this, too. I wasn’t just wearing my gay goggles.
As much fun as it is to imagine conservative, strapping 1950s men getting it on, I just don’t think I should be doing that during Picnic. When William Inge’s play — which would go on to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama — debuted in 1953, it was notable for its female characters’ unbridled attraction to the lead man Hal’s torso. Even as Hal sweeps good girl Madge off her feet (and away from his “bro” Alan) in a fit of romanticism, it’s clear that their love is of the more lustful variety. This sort of animalism doesn’t play if we’re made to believe the dude is on the DL.
Perhaps this production’s gleeful gayness is meant to undercut the script’s heteronormativity — or perhaps it’s meant to clarify the openly gay Inge’s true intentions for his characters — but it never blends into the story in a natural way. It’s to the credit of Lawrence Nichols, who plays Hal, that this never distracts too much. All kinetic charisma, Nichols is the brighter star of the two lead men — though he could be directed to plant his feet more. His constant weight shifting, which is probably meant to play as swaggering restlessness, ends up being unsettling. As his love interest, Madge, Lauren Moylan is sweet and buoyant, but largely outshined by Noveigh Vollette, who nearly steals the show as Madge’s kid sister Millie. Vollette’s firecracker deliveries — if a little too self-possessed for a “shy” character — inject every scene with energy. The older actors, including Holly Johnson as Madge and Millie’s overbearing mother, are solid across the board.
Director Joe Petrolia deserves kudos for deftly maneuvering his cast into dynamic stage pictures. Ellen Eames’s cheery and charming set, however, falls a tiny bit short (literally.) Set in a Kansas backyard, Picnic has traditionally always featured a set with two opposing houses — but in this case, one of the houses is cropped on top. Perhaps this is intended to suggest largeness, but instead it seems there wasn’t enough time to complete it. Pam Revill’s elegant costumes add to the palette of pastels on display. The lighting design by Jared Alexander further brightens the colors onstage. The sound cues by sound designer Christopher Grafton are choppy at times, but otherwise heighten the show’s realism.
Picnic might not be revolutionary now, but it stands as a charming remnant of a time when women could scandalize by choosing love (or lust) over duty. There’s not too much to the story — sheltered Madge must decide between marrying her safety and riding into the sunset with her stud muffin — but the writing is fantastic. If you’ve never seen the show, then this is an opportunity for you to come out and marvel at Inge’s witty ruminations on female beauty and repression. Or you can come out and marvel at Hal’s torso. Up to you. I’m not your mom.
Looks like this weekend – unlike last weekend – is actually gonna be a pretty nice one for a Picnic, which is good because it runs thru Sunday, October 16 at Peninsula Community Theatre. Fri & Sat 8:00pm, Sun 2:30pm. Tix: $18 Reg; $17 Seniors, Military & Dep; $12 Students (22 and under). Call (757) 595-5728 for reservations, or go here.
Let us know what you thought of the show (or if you’re working on a fanfic sequel that has everyone shirtless all the time) in the comments!