`Picnic' recalls simpler times

Bay Theatre takes up Inge's prize-winning story of life, love in small-town Kansas


February 09, 2007|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

Bay Theatre Company co-founders Lucinda Merry-Browne and Janet Luby are enthusiastic, but humble about their latest production: William Inge's Pulitzer Prize-winning Picnic.

"We've never done Inge, and his plays capture place and time of innocence in a kind of '50s snapshot of everyday life in Kansas," said Merry-Browne, the troupe's managing and artistic director. "Humor springs from the sweetness of the people - wonderful women characters like Flo, a woman raising two daughters by herself, which wasn't easy in this period when having a man was considered essential to a woman's status and happiness, also seen in the spinster character Rosemary."

Luby and Merry-Browne are delighted to have New York director Gia Forakis on board to direct what Luby called "a powerful American classic."

A graduate of the Yale School of Drama and director of last season's Acts of Mercy, which ran off-Broadway, and last November's The Real Inspector Hound at New York University's Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, Forakis will be in Annapolis for five weeks, living with a local Bay Theatre supporter.

Forakis said that early in his career, Inge had been encouraged to write by Tennessee Williams.

"This play is an image of America in the '50s that continues to have relevance. Women may have more options now, but there are still societal pressures to settle down with a partner," said Forakis. "Even today, it seems better to be a divorced woman with a child than a single woman who's never married."

Forakis' enthusiasm for working at Bay Theatre is heightened by the presence of set designer Lee Savage, with whom she teamed up during their days at Yale. They did plays such as Uncle Vanya together.

Savage, chosen by director Michael Kahn to design the set for Shakespeare Theatre Company's recent Richard III, was in the area last month when he discovered that Forakis would be directing Picnic and came on board. Merry-Browne and Forakis proudly displayed his set.

Picnic is set in Kansas, where Flo Owens struggles to raise her two teenagers: Millie, a tomboy, and Madge, the prettiest girl in town. Flo's plans for Madge to settle down with Alan, a wealthy suitor, are disturbed when handsome young drifter Hal Carter comes into town.

In Bay's production, Hal will be played by Judson Davis, who recently was featured as Robbie in A Man of No Importance. Equity actress Valerie Leonard will star as Flo, and Coty Warn and Genevieve James will play Madge and Millie, respectively. Others in the cast include Kathryn Falcone as the spinster schoolteacher Rosemary and Mark Poremba as Howard.

With only Picnic and The Norman Conquests: Table Manners remaining in Bay Theatre Company's fifth season, Merry-Browne and Luby are looking ahead to next season. The plays will include Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests: Living Together, Williams' The Glass Menagerie and Charles Webb's The Graduate, with a fourth to be announced later.

"Picnic" will run Feb. 23 through March 31 at Bay Theatre at the West Garrett Building, 275 West St. in Annapolis. Performances are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. Thursdays in March and 3 p.m. March 31. Tickets are $22 for general admission and $17 for students and seniors and are available at www.baytheatre.org or 410-268-1333.

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