Occasionally on Mondays, Broadway's "dark" night, or uh... It's Wednesday (oops!)... we'll talk theater.
As I sat waiting for the revival of William Inge's "Picnic" to begin in its new Broadway run, I noticed that I couldn't keep my mitts off of Sebastian Stan. Playbills can get so smudgy if you keep pawing at them but it couldn't be helped with his face so blown up big on the program. The collection of actors onstage was about to experience the same handsy problem with Sebastian Stan as "Hal" the hunky drifter in this classic drama about the power of beauty and the complications of sexual attraction. Only it wasn't his face they wanted to rub themselves all over.
No sooner had the play begun than Ellen Burstyn was talking him out of his clothing (please to note: Sebastian Stan has been working out. A lot. God bless, presumably, Captain America: The Winter Soldier in which he'll square off with Chris Evans as his former friend 'Bucky' now resurrected/brainwashed as an arch enemy.) He spends the better part of the three act play sweaty and shirtless or half sweaty-shirted if you will.
Everyone wants a piece of him.
Well, not everyone. This production of Picnic isn't complicated or brave enough to wrestle with any of the potentially complicated sexual politics between its three male characters -- I'm not talking anything as cliche as latent homosexuality, just basic sexual politics whether through camaraderie, one upmanship, or cockblocking envy -- but the women are all agog at his god amongst them: Ellen (Ellen Burstyn) fesses up to wanting Hal's company and hires him on the spot setting the plot in motion; Rosemary (Elizabeth Marvel doing her best Rosalind Russell) the horny old maid schoolteacher lets her attraction to him run amok and bleed into her current relationship with a store owner; Madge (Maggie Grace) can't look away even though her current boyfriend is offering a life far above her current station; Millie (Madeleine Martin), Madge's younger bookworm sister rethinks her perpetual unboyfriendable status in his presence; and Flo (Mare Winningham)... well, we won't learn why he rubs Flo the wrong way until late in the second act.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching these familiar faces take on Inge's material. The play is somewhat dated of course as any then-contemporary sexually charged work from the 1950s would be. But this time through, as opposed to a recent viewing of the Oscar nominated film version, I was left much less puzzled by the play's classic awards-magnet status. There's a lot for actors to chew on here even if in this new revival they merely nibble. That's the best I can do in explaining that something feels missing despite solid performances all around. Solid work, but never particularly deep work... though Mare Winningham digs more than I was expecting in the second act.
On the plus side, this particular stage version is much funnier and (usually) more erotic than the Important Drama Oscar Bait of 1955's movie. The casting of Hal is smarter too since you can only believe the central conflict if Hal is young enough to make a young woman consider throwing her entire future away for deluding herself that it wasn't too late for him to get his act together; William Holden is a terrific movie star but he was nearly 40 when that particular movie hit. Still, it was hard not to miss the cinematic beauty of the actual picnic within Picnic the movie -- if you've only seen the movie the play is surprising in its treatment of the same -- and Kim Novak's hauntingly direct gaze as she dances with Hal/Holden on her life-changing night.
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