Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

University of Alabama Theatre Department to Explore Youth, Beauty and Love in Upcoming Production of 'Picnic'

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

University of Alabama Theatre Department to Explore Youth, Beauty and Love in Upcoming Production of 'Picnic'

Article excerpt

The University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance will explore themes of identity, youth, beauty and, of course, love in its upcoming production of William Inge's American classic, "Picnic."

"It's a lovely slice of life," said Allison Hetzel, who plays Flo Owens, and is also an associate professor in the department. "Anyone can relate to something, whether it is being a parent or experiencing heartbreak, or even if you're rushing off with someone who might not be the best choice. It offers aspects of the human condition for everybody."

Since its 1953 debut on Broadway, "Picnic" has been adapted into two major musicals, "Hot September" and "Summer Brave," both of which foundered and lasted for only a handful of performances. The play was also made into a 1955 film starring William Holden and Kim Novak that won two Academy Awards.

For UA's production, the cast and crew will return to the play's roots in realism, although they take a few liberties in set design.

"Our set designer has talked about how we're doing a realistic production, but the set design is more selective realism," said director Jeffry Tangeman. "The theme of people being concerned with appearances is reflected in the set design, and there will be some interesting insights in the set design that you wouldn't normally see in a standard production of the play."

The play centers on Flo and her daughters, Millie and Madge, who are preparing for the small Kansas town's Labor Day picnic. Hal, the new kid in town, has come to visit Madge's boyfriend, Alan. Although forced to accompany younger sister Millie to the picnic, Hal finds himself drawn to Madge. Their mutual attraction takes center stage, complicating multiple relationships.

"It is a love triangle, and that's a story no matter when you set it, where or how," Hetzel said.

Gender roles of the times constrain women, including the Owen sisters and their mother. Naomi Prentice, who plays Madge, said she has enjoyed exploring the complexities of her character, whose beauty serves as a double-edged sword, as she is often objectified as just a "pretty face."

"The most challenging part about my role as Madge is finding a way to justify her selfishness," she said. "I need to make the audience sympathize with her and understand where she is coming from. She is a young woman growing up as a piece of furniture in a man's world. She isn't just a beautiful girl boo-hooing about how pretty she is. She wants more out of life."

Tara Lynn Steele, who plays younger sister Millie, said she admires her character, because she defies many of the gender stereotypes common to women in the 1950s.

"She is a 16-year-old tomboy," she said. "She's intelligent, witty and rough around the edges, but still sensitive. I think I love Millie's (lack of) inhibition the most. …

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