Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 20, 2013


Theater Guild of Hampden, Hampden MA
through October 27, 2013
by Eric Johnson

Attraction, animal magnetism, chemistry, lust. Call it what you will, it is in the air at this production of William Inge’s 1953 play, "Picnic." Andrew Ingham as the handsome, boorish Hal Carter, and Brianna Paine as the beautiful and vapid Madge Owens display a steamy chemistry on stage from the first time their eyes meet.

Director Mark Giza has made excellent choices in casting, as all of the players seem relaxed and comfortable in the skins of their characters.

Heath Verrill’s portrayal of Alan Seymour is spot on, if a bit cliché. That is not to be taken as a negative, as this play is full of cliché that begs to be served. There is no ambiguity in Verrill’s performance -- he is the textbook good catch who cannot quite keep Madge’s attention when Hal comes to town. Brad Shepard and Tracey Hebert provide wonderful comic moments as Howard and Rosemary in scene stealing, scenery chewing, supporting roles. Other actors shine: Darlene Cloutier, Gail Weber, and Mindy Meeker. Millie Owens and Bomber are delightful supporting characters, ably played by KK Walulak and Ian Weber. Jeanne Wysocki gives a heart-rending performance that elicits some audible sobs from the opening night audience.

The intimacy of the space works well for this production. The audience is not insulated by distance from the intensity that this fine cast brings to life from Inge’s script. The staging does face some challenges, but they are well handled by Josiah Dunham, who has crafted an impressive set featuring two separate and complete houses.

If any criticism can be made, it is picky, and forgivable. Anachronisms. Stonewashed blue jeans were not sold in 1953; ear piercings were only on the lobes, etc.

At its core, the play is about choices and consequences. This production of "Picnic" contains good, solid choices, and strong chemistry. The consequence is a show well worth seeing.