- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 12, 2002

William Inge won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1953 play "Picnic," a timeless American tale of forbidden love replete with witty exchanges of poetic dialogue.
Young director Steven Scott Mazzola's "Picnic," being produced by the American Century Theater, is also good. But it's not that good.
Mr. Mazzola's "Picnic" appears to lack polish perhaps a result of the tiny set on which it is staged at the new and seemingly makeshift Theatre on the Run in Arlington.
The clumsiness of the play's younger actors could be explained by a lack of talent. Or, perhaps they are struggling to work magic on the cramped set. One way or another, one gets a sense you are watching a great play struggle.
Mr. Mazzola does manage to bring this classic slightly back to life, as he orchestrates the cast of young and older actors through three acts.
The cast features Jeanne Dillon, playing the beautiful but dumb Madge Owens. Madge is wooed by Hal Carter (Peter Cassidy), a drifter whose arrival upsets her little world along with the rest of the female-dominated equilibrium of the Midwestern town in which she lives.
Madge's powdered, yet innocent physical beauty dominates Hal's mind-set. It also dominates that of the other male characters in the play: the bootleg-liquor-sneaking unclelike figure Howard Bevens (Kevin Adams) and Alan Seymour (Jason Lott), the college boy whom everyone seems to think Madge should marry.
It is a situation that troubles Madge, which is made clear when she asks her mother: "Mom, what good is it to be pretty?"
Flo Owens (Sheri S. Herren) answers: "Pretty things are rare in this life … like billboards telling us that life is good," a response typical of her endless attempts to enlighten her daughter of the rich life her beauty will afford if she chooses to allow it.
As the play unfolds, we see the complex social dynamics between men who want women a certain way and women who wish men were a certain way.
The dynamics brighten rapidly toward the end, when Howard also the middle-aged boyfriend of voluptuous Rosemary Sydney (Kathryn Fuller) introduces a bit of the "bootleg" to some of the other characters.
Specifically, the drunkenness feeds the frenzy of Flo Owens, whose husband (the father of Madge and her younger sister Millie, played by Mary Rasmussen) disappeared years ago. We never find out why he disappeared, but it is clear that alcohol abuse was involved.
The social dynamics are best portrayed by the stellar acting job Miss Fuller does as Rosemary, who is renting a room in Flo's house and has more than a bit to say about everyone when she's drunk.
Much to Flo's dismay, a forbidden love affair ensues, as well as a fistfight over a pretty girl and the breaking of at least two female hearts.
One feels some satisfaction at the end because Madge eventually and convincingly allows her beauty to afford her a rich life. Only it is rich with things her mother never intended.
**1/2
WHAT: "Picnic"
WHERE: Theatre on the Run, 3700 S. Four Mile Run, Arlington.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, through Feb. 2, with 2:30 p.m. matinees today and Jan. 19, 20, 26 and Feb. 2
TICKETS: $17 to $24
PHONE: 703/553-8782
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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