How did I spend my Easter Sunday? Watching a great revival of William Inge’s best play “Picnic” by the Transport Group at the Judson Gym on Washington Square. And they were packed. On Easter Sunday and you could hear a pin drop. A really solid piece of work by all involved. “Picnic” is novelly playing in repertory with another one of Inge’s less-revived works “Come Back, Little Sheba,” which I’ve reviewed elsewhere on this blog.
But director Jack Cummings III and company really hit it out of the ball-park with this really stark take on what is mainly remembered as a very lush Hollywood movie with William Holden and Kim Novak at her absolute peak, as Madge, the pretty one. Here we have Ginna Le Vine, and the studly, hunky track star from “Sheba“, the charismatic David T.Patterson.
Patterson does really well here as the muscle-bound tramp that the overly friendly Mrs.Potts takes in, and turns her and all her neighbors lives upside down. Played by the much better cast here Heather Mac Rae, who nearly sinks “Sheba” under her too girthy performace. You can sense the actor’s delight in the repertory feel of playing two different roles right after the other. Especially so with Mac Rae, who is just delightful ogling Hal here, and was so bad three nights ago in “Sheba.”
With this rep, the enterprising and award-winning Transport Group is trying to show NY audiences just what it is missing. Repertory is staple of European Theater and rarely seen in America.
Also appearing well-cast in the supporting role of Howard, the reluctant suitor of school-teacher Rosemary ( a tremendous Emily Skinner ) is the versatile string-bean John Cariani. He played the hell out of THREE small roles in “Sheba” ( a Postman, a milk man and a Telegram delivery boy ). He is also the playwright of “Almost, Maine,” one of the most successful Off Broadway plays of the past decade. Which was also done by the Transport Group.
Patterson as Hal really gets to elicit his character’s desperate pathos as he curls up into a ball of pain, crying after a fight with his best friend, who tears his already tattered shirt, the only shirt he owns.
Holding this marvelous production together just as she is seen trying to hold her family of three from flying apart, is the simply wonderful Michele Pawk.
Pawk, makes the role of the mother figure of the piece Flo, the surprising center of “Picnic”s beating heart. Her climactic moments after her soon-to-be wayward daughter, Madge, leaves her were shattering. And award-level worthy. You never remember who plays Flo, but Pawk’s Flo is the best I’ve ever seen and one I shan’t soon forget. Yes, it is Flo’s world that we see disintegrating right before her pain-stricken eyes. Bravo, Michele!
And did I mention Dane Laffrey’s pared-down set of only seven peeling garden chairs against a blank plywood wall of flats? Which left us nothing to look at except the marvelous eleven actors, the Transport Group has assembled before them? It bisected the Judson Gym’s small space diagonally and the audience was seated two-deep, as it was with “Come Back Little Sheba.” And in this cramped space, this holiday audience still gave “Picnic” a standing ovation. This was an Easter to remember, I tell you.