Renegade’s Picnic Closes School Year with Picnic
Solid acting and directing and a well-crafted set were muddied by a cramped venue.
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
The gentle, pastel-hued set of Picnic, the Renegade Theater Company’s final play of the year, evoked a charming innocence that contrasted effectively with the play’s dark, dramatic tension.
At first glance, Picnic, written by William Inge and directed by Tim Jurney ’15, seems to center around a carefree subject — a Labor Day picnic in a small Kansas town. As the picnic approaches, however, everything begins to crumble for the protagonists, setting the stormy, fascinating narrative into motion.
One facet of the story follows Madge Owens, portrayed gracefully by Sarah Bence ’15, who has trouble connecting with her boyfriend Alan Seymour (Mike Jest ’15), despite how objectively suitable the wealthy Alan would be as a husband. Instead, Madge gravitates toward the much less polished Hal Carter (Sam Sobel ’15).
Madge also butts heads with her bookish, envious sister Millie, feistily portrayed by Kristen Prevost ’15. When the picnic rolls around, Hal, who is supposed to be Millie’s date, runs off with Madge.
Madge herself longs to be treated as a person of substance rather than just as a pretty face. Bence brought this inner turmoil to life with commendable sensitivity, conveying Madge’s vacillation without rendering her dull.
Meanwhile, Rosemary Sydney (a dynamic Elizabeth Gardner ’15) uses the night of the picnic to demand a marriage proposal from her boyfriend Howard Bevens, played effectively by Nolan Reisen ’15.
The story of a pushy, marriage-crazy female trying to coerce a reluctant, stammering male is cliché. Nonetheless, Gardner and Reisen executed this tired narrative well. Gardner, in particular, employed excellent physical comedy in a scene when Rosemary drunkenly tries to force her boyfriend to dance with her.
Although the play’s first half built up intense anticipation surrounding the picnic, no scenes took place at the event itself. The audience only witnessed scenes beforehand, taking place primarily in a single yard. Despite this relatively unvaried setting, the play managed to hold its audience’s interest. The event’s invisibility only served to add intrigue to the picnic and to increase the sense of its significance.
The Black Box Theater is cramped at best, and its layout obscures much of the audience’s view of the stage. That said, Jurney made good use of the limited space available. Actors occasionally ran up and down the aisle, preventing spatial stagnancy and offering certain sections of the audience a better view.
The play’s set stood out as one of the highlights of the show. Pieces of brightly-colored tissue paper pasted onto the backdrop created a patchwork effect that evoked children’s picture books. The Christmas lights that hung from the rafters of the Black Box Theater contributed to an aura of carefree festivity.
The play’s final scene features an argument between Madge and her mother Flo, played by Katie Moss ’15. Moss’ portrayal of Flo made this confrontation the most powerful scene in the play. Madge wants to run off with her unreliable lover Hal, but, many years ago, Flo had married Madge’s reckless father for love. Moss packed a significant emotional punch when she implored Madge to accept a stable future with Alan and not repeat her character’s mistake.
Picnic’s conclusion left viewers with a sense of uncertainty akin to the end of Renegade’s earlier production Becky Shaw. After Madge declares that she must marry Hal and sprints to catch a train, the lights dim, leaving Flo deserted onstage, shoulders slumped, bleeding desperation.