Monday, January 21, 2013

Picnic @ American Airlines Theatre

What happens when a wildly attractive young man comes to campus and gets invited to a picnic by a group of women? What kind of issues are sure to ensue? Picnic, the 1953 Pulitzer Prize winning play by William Inge, is getting its third revival on Broadway from the Roundabout Theatre with a cast of young, good-looking actors paired alongside more seasoned veterans.
It’s a balmy Labor Day in the American Heartland, and a group of women are preparing for a picnic... but they'll have to lay a lot on the line before they can lay out the checkered cloths. When a handsome young drifter named Hal (Stan) arrives, his combination of uncouth manners and titillating charm sends the women reeling, especially the beautiful Madge (Grace). When Hal is forced out of town, Madge must decide whether their fleeting encounter is worth changing the course of her life.
Sebastian Stan (Talk Radio) leads the cast as Hal Carter, a mysterious yet wildly attractive college boy.  Unfortunately, Stan had no leading quality here unless it was the line to the gym, he was nothing more than a good looking body on stage. Playing opposite from Stan was newcomer to Broadway, Maggie Grace, who portrayed Madge Owens, the pretty girl that every boy want to get their hands on. Grace came across as bland; however she delivered it well - she made the scenes between her and Stan watchable. Playing Madge’s kid sister, Millie Owens was Madeleine Martin(August: Osage County). Martin never had a true moment, everything seemed really robotic, thank god Inge made it so easy to feel bad for Millie otherwise they audience would have no sympathy for her. With age comes experience and that definitely shined through in this production. Ellen Burstyn (Oldest Living Confederate Tells All) played Mrs. Helen Potts, the old noisy neighbor who just wants to be a part of everyone’s fun. Burstryn was a god given pleasure to watch because of her beautiful charm and grace on stage. In he Broadway debut Mare Winningham played Flo Owens, a loving mother who just wants the best for her two  daughters. Winningham stood with confidence and fell with pride, a truly stunning performance. Elizabeth Marvel (Hedda Gabler) was the single school teacher Rosemary Sydney, and she was nothing more than a Marvel! Whenever onstage the audience had their eyes on her and she was really what kept this show moving along.
Sam Gold (Seminar) had the pleasure of directing this 1953 William Inge play. For the most part Gold got it right; he kept it very true to the script and very true to the time but the pacing of this show had the audience aching in their seating wanting something more, just faster.  The design team producing something visually stunning, not one thing over powered the other.  Andrew Lieberman (Debut) did the set design and kept everything realistic, put the audience right in the middle of a farm in Kansas. David Zinn (The Other Place) was the costume designer, and Zinn got everything right, right down to the white gloves the school teacher wear in that time. The light design was done by Jane Cox (Come Back, Little Shebia). Cox left everything practical and if she felt that a scene just needed the street light then so be it, it worked in the shows favor.
If you’re into the drama of Desperate Housewife, the forbiddan love of the Twilight Sage, or just like a good period piece, then Picnic is for you (running at the American Airlines theatre until February 24, 2013).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Other Place @ Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

The complexity of the human mind is amazing. Cures for diseases, designs for more fuel

efficient vehicles, and just about anything you can think of comes from the brain. It is an endless

storage space where all of our ideas and fondest memories are stored, and it is the most important

tool that mankind has at its disposal. The horrifying part about it is that one minute it can be

there and working to the best of its ability, and the next it can create illusions that adulterate even

one’s fondest memories. Sharr White’s new play The Other Place explores the fragility of the

mind, and that one can do when their thoughts betray them.

The plot of this play focuses Dr. Juliana Smithson, played by Laurie Metcalf, and her

having an “episode” during a presentation in front of her colleagues and begins to show signs of

dementia. Her husband Ian, played by Daniel Stern, tries to get her to come to terms with her

illness, but Smithson avoids his help and persistently tries to reconnect with their daughter that

ran away more than ten years before there were any signs of her disease.

Metcalf, best known for her role on the hit sitcom Roseanne, gave a great performance in

this role. She does not go too far overboard with her insanity, and she is able to let her dementia

develop both internally and externally. Her physicalization of the character’s disease was done

flawlessly, and it was really heartbreaking to watch her rapid decline. 

Playing opposite of Metcalf was Daniel Stern (Home Alone). Stern’s character was

trying to get his wife help, and Sharr White did a fine job of writing this character especially.

Stern found a great balance between love for his wife and the frustration with her illness. He has

a light-heartedness about him a very nice compliment to Metcalf’s harshness. Stern gives a

splendid performance and shows that he is more than capable of doing something other than just

being a funny guy.

The technical aspects of this production were every bit as impressive as the acting.

Scenic designers Edward Pierce and Eugene Lee created a set out of empty white picture frames

that was very interesting and served the play very well. Everything from the doors to the

bathroom mirror was made of these empty picture frames, and it set the mood of the production

from the second that the play began. This coupled with the flickering blue lights that would

interrupt Juliana’s story periodically really gave the feeling of being inside the mind of someone

who is losing their thoughts.

Director Joe Mantello took Sharr White’s new play and did wonderful things with it. The

production was very enjoyable as a whole, and really left the audience effected at the end. The

Other Place is definitely worth seeing, and it will provide a theatrical experience that you will

not soon forget.