The Walpole Footlighters' 236th production of their 83rd season is William Inge's Pulitzer prize winning play, "Picnic'. Set in a small Kansas town in the 1950's, the show takes place on Labor Day weekend in the backyards of two middle-aged women. One house belongs to Flo Owens, who lives there with her two teenage daughters, Madge and Millie and a boarder who is a spinster schoolteacher. The other house belongs to Helen Potts, who lives with her invalid mother. Hal Carter, a hunky drifter with a past and a history of seduction, enters this female atmosphere, when he takes a room in exchange for doing odd jobs for Mrs. Potts. This stranger is the catalyst for change in the town and within a day of his arrival, Hal changes all the women's lives. By the time he leaves the next morning, the emotional storm he has caused brings all the women to the realization that their outlook on life has been enlarged as a result of Hal's invigorating presence. Director Mario Salinas chooses 11 talented people to fill these roles while set designer Dan Sheehan constructs two huge houses for the outdoor set and lighting designer Doug Gordon creates beautiful lighting of early morning, just before sunset, daybreak and right after sunrise while the authentic 1950's costumes are by Kate Smith and the numerous sound effects are by Derek Jones.
The cast is lead by Michael O'Connor who plays Hal, the misunderstood hunk. Hal has been ignored by his drunken father who is now dead and an uncaring, callous mother who had him thrown into reform school at the age of 14. She wanted his father's money while she had a secret boyfriend behind his back. Michael does a wonderful job, capturing the sympathy of the audience as this intense and handsome young man. His leading lady, Samantha Byers plays the 19 year old Madge Owens who is smitten by the intriguing stranger in town. Madge is only known for being pretty but she wants more out of life and thinks Hal is the answer to her prayers. She does a wonderful job in this role by showing, Madge's growth from spoiled pretty girl to a caring girl who finds another person to love. 14 year old Raven Birdsell plays Millie Owens who is a smart tomboy at the start of the show but changes into a budding young woman when Hal pays attention to her, bringing her out of her shell. She also does a lovely job in this role. Ninette Cummings plays Flo, the doting and caring mother of the girls. Flo immediately dislikes Hal because he reminds her of her own husband. She doesn't want them to be taken in by his good looks and charm. Ninette shines in this role especially during the sobbing scene when Madge decides to leave town to be with Hal. One of the funniest performers in this show is Barbara Schapiro as Rosemary Sydney, the old maid schoolteacher who yearns to marry her businessman sweetheart. The appearance of Hal spurs her on into forcing her boyfriend's hand into asking her to marry him. Rosemary is the only one to see through Hal's false bravado and bursts his facade when he spurns her advances towards him. Barbara captures the comic antics of this character and steals many scenes doing so.
Andrew Bradley plays Madge's rich college boyfriend, Alan who lives under his father's thumb. Alan is jealous of Hal's success with the females at college when they were roommates in a fraternity and especially now when he sees all the women swoon over Hal. Andrew makes this nice boy turn into an avenging demon when Hal puts the moves on Madge. He accepts his defeat and decides to move on with his life. Andrew's real life father, Peter plays the heavy drinking businessman, Howard Bevans who Rosemary is in love with. He has some funny moments while trying to escape her clutches and his hangdog expressions when he is finally caught in the web of the old maid, is humorous, too. Another good character actress is Chip Winslow as Mrs. Potts. Her husband abandoned her on their wedding night due to her horrible mother's interference by having it annulled. Chip shows a warmth and caring attitude to the other characters especially Hal, because she likes to have a man around the house. Rounding out the cast are Maggie Nichols and Megan Conklin as two other old maid schoolteachers and Jesse Seckel as Bomber the newsboy who constantly teases Millie and tries to woo Madge unsuccessfully. So for a trip back to the 1950's to see what happened on that Labor Day weekend, be sure to catch "Picnic".