Sierra Madre Playhouse Theatre
It’s a hot and sweltering day in 1953 Kansas and the whole town is looking forward to the annual Labor Day picnic. Kids racing to the lake, swinging back and forth on a tire while the adults try to find comfortable places to sit and eat all that delicious barbeque and potato salad and drink as much icy lemonade without getting sick from too much enjoyment. It’s a typical day until drifter Hal Carter (Allen Cutler) comes blowing in from God knows where and without meaning too, disrupts the lives of the women in town, which affects their life.
The first casualty is the overtly beautiful Madge Owens (Amanda Arbues). She works at the local five and dime store and has the attention of rich boy Alan Seymour (Jon Snow). Ironically, Alan and Hal were fraternity brothers. Well, in spirit they are. Hal got kicked out of school but the college friends still refer to each other as brothers. Hal’s rugged good looks and tall tales of adventure also grabs the attention of Madge’s quick-witted tomboy sister Millie (Elise Gould), high school teacher Rosemary Sydney (Nancy Lantis) who is more than anxious to marry her uneager boyfriend Howard Bevans (Jack Chansler).
The pseudo-matriarch of the town is the gregarious, octogenarian Helen Potts (played beautifully by Sandra Hakman), who cares for her, never seen but oft-talked about, mother. Hal fixes what needs to be done, in return receives delicious, hot meals. At first shirtless, well built sight, the women are in awe. Hal supplies, to anyone who will listen, outrageous stories about living in California to Texas. It doesn’t take much coaxing to get him to join the picnic. He keeps it cool for a second or two then decides to go. The only alpha female who’s not impressed with Hal’s character is Madge and Millie’s mother Flo (Fran McCreary) who’s leery of the rootless wanderer. Alan assures Ms. Owens that he will personally keep an eye on him. All this excitement happens before the picnic begins.
Director Bob Hakman made going before the picnic more enticing and fiery than the actual picnic itself. Hal, unbeknownst to him, maybe, stirs up deep sensations with each female he meets. Even Millie, who in the first act is an overall-wearing-tomboy who enjoys art and writing, straightens up, wears a dark blue “frock”, with a red belt cinched at the waist. The moment his eyes catches Madge it’s over. He’s found his woman despite her rich boyfriend who’s also Hal’s former frat brother. It’s getting hot now. Hakman manages beautifully to integrate Hal and Madge storyline along with failed romance of Rosemary and Howard and the town loudmouth Bomber (S, Taylor) whose goal in life is to drive Millie crazy. The stories are, of course, begin separately, but come together as a whole at the end.
Arbues (www.amandaarbues.com) is dynamic as Madge. A sweet-looking, morally up-right young woman who, at first, resists Hal but follows her heart and goes after her man. One scene that encapsulates their desire for each other is when Hal dances with Madge without saying a word. They allow their bodies to speak what they would like to say but cannot. Having enough of the good loving that escaping her, Rosemary rips into Hal that surprises everyone around them, especially Howard. Lantis does a terrific job as the semi-neurotic Rosemary. She effortless provides a bold exterior as a strong-minded career woman who desperately needs to be loved. When Rosemary cries, it’s hard not to feel her pain. Also, watching Hal and Madge show their desire for each other unabashedly doesn’t help. Cutler (www.allencutler.net) is brilliant as the instigator to all this madness. As Hal, he manages to rouse up a lot of fuss in one weekend. Cutler could have gone the not so bright country boy unaware of the chaos he’s unknowingly creating route, but instead he provides Hal with heart and empathy, a little lost in the direction of his life and most importantly, a likable young man who sees that nothing is impossible.
If there are any flaws in this wonderful show, I didn’t see it. Everything from the gorgeously built set, to the vibrant cast and the flawless direction defines a helluva show. But if you still yearn for some actual picnic action rent the 1955 film starring Kim Novak and Oscar winner William Holden. Two completely different visual masterpieces conveying the same message “GREAT SHOW”.
Picnic Runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. until Saturday, April 11th located at Sierra Madre Playhouse Theatre 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd in Sierra Madre. Tickets available by calling (626) 256-3809 or online at Tickets are $20, $17 for seniors (over 65) and students (13-17) and $12 for children under 12.