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Wednesday
Jan162013

Stage Door: "Picnic" Packs a Lot of Starpower

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.

more after the jump...

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.  

Flo (Mare Winningham) and Madge (Maggie Grace)

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.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson became Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter became Meryl Streep's Son in Law became BRICK in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOFMORE FROM THE STAGE...

Blu-ray Perfect Hugh Jackman's run in Oklahoma! is now preserved on bluray. All the sounds of the earth are like music, All the sounds of the earth are like musicHe's so adorable in this role and now he's a Golden Globe winner for his musical gifts, too.
Playbill picks the 5 most memorable divas from the plays of Tennessee Williams including, of course, Maggie the Cat
Playbill the awesome Katie Finneran (currently in Annie: The Musical) is returning to sitcoms (with Michael J Fox this time) so I guess I Hate My Teeange Daughter didn't scare her off. She's perfect on stage and was wonderful on Wonderfalls years ago so one of these days some TV role will click, right?
Theater Mania 5 time Tony Winner Audra McDonald is busy busy. She'll guest star on The Good Wife and a new album is coming, too.
MNPP since we began with beefcake, let's end with it. Benjamin Walker as "Brick" on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 

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Reader Comments (18)

PICNIC was one of my favourites of the shot series and it used to be one of my favourite movies, but each time I rewatch Holden sticks out more and more like a sore thumb. I've never actually seen the play acted, but I have read it often. It's an effective piece and like many of Inge's work even though they appear as obvious representatives of their era they do comment somewhat on our society in interesting ways.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

William Inge's plays show their age a bit more conspicuously than those of Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller. Watching this production, I couldn't help noticing how flat the language is, and how thinly the characters are conceived. Elizabeth Marvel has a great 5 minutes, and Sebastian Stan has a great six pack. But if can only see one show the next time you're in NYC, this is the one to skip. Even if you're a Hiptix member. Save the $22!

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJosh R

I think a lot of young women in the 50's would leave everything behind for Holden, specially because stars don't have age. He is SO charismatic in the role that we forget his age. But we're more cynical nowadays, now we care about his age. Still, the movie was a hit in the 50's.

I don't know. Complaining about his age in Picnic is like complaining about driving back-projections or the hair of Barbra Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. It was another era, folks. It was ok to be 40 and play 20.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Imagine Sebastian Stan returning to Once Upon a Time (am I alone or is there anyone else watching this show?) and suddenly Mad Hatter becomes a sexy beast who spends the whole episode without his shirt on. Oh my! LOL.

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPJ

Or better yet, imagine Sebastian Stan in Hot Tub Time Machine 2 with his shirt off.

But seriously, I love that he's busy right now because he's well deserving of it. I thought it was not going to happen because it almost never happens to the good ones. I also wish that the movie adaptation of A View on the Bridge went ahead.

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

He was the best bit of political animals, and that's saying something with that cast! Will we ever see your top 10/film bitch Nat? :D :D :D I literally check every hour hahaha

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermorganisaqt

Great to have this kind of post again! Haven't seen the movie/play.
I remember Nick not liking Inge's work. I, myself, don't know how I felt about Sheba which, I think, is Inge's only piece of work I'm familiar with.

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

I'd just like to point out JA's *ahem* thorough coverage of Sebastian Stan's performance. http://mynewplaidpants.blogspot.com/2013/01/good-morning-world_11.html

Tis a thing of beauty.

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTB

When I saw that Sebastian Stan pic on the Roundabout site, I immediately thought:

a) Wow! He's hot
b) Mmh... He's an anachronism. Sexuality does not come from long hours at the gym.

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

@Peggy Sue - Of course not - it comes from reading a lot of books!
I kid you. I get what you mean but sexual desire has always been a shallow thing, so gym hours often matter.

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

@ cal Admittedly I've never loved Holden, but I don't think it's an unfair complaint - I wouldn't mind as much if everyone was older, but he's so palpably older than the persons who're supposed to be his age - it pulls me out of the story ever so slightly.

@josh Some of O'Neill's pieces don't hold up well though (Desire Under the Elms is an especial slog). Curiously, even though it should seem more dated Inge's screenplay for "Splendor in the Grass" holds up great for me. I'm surprised no one has turned that into a play as yet.

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrewK.

how was stan's acting? he was really not good at all in "political animals"... oh what a waste of an opportunity that show was!

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick

James T -- Not during the 50s!

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMR0X_3NMR

take a look at that body!!!!

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrandon

I never cared for the movie of Picnic much. But William Holden had loads of charisma in that film. His winning streak in the movies of the 50s is like Bette Davis' in the 40s. Electric and historic.Inge probably hasn't aged well, but I love the script for Splendor In the Grass. Still gets to me everytime.

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Picnic is probably the weakest of Inge's plays - I prefer Dark at the Top of the Stairs myself.

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Holden might have been to old for "PIcnic" but he makes it work.

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

look...it's like i said to the usher - if they didn't want me to masturbate in my seat they wouldn't put beefcake on the stage, ok?

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

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