Review by Terry Gaisin
1952 was a memorable year, Anderson’s ‘Blue Tango’ was the top Hit Parade record; Eisenhower became the U.S. president and this scribe’s husband finally was able to drive – legally! This resulted in an ability to canvass Montreal East where the girls [supposedly] did it. Comparable to Millie in ‘Picnic’, he too was sixteen in ‘52 and like his contemporaries had five things paramount on their mind- Dating; Graduating Division ‘A’ from High School; getting into an acceptable University; borrowing the family wheels and did I mention…sex!
Photo by Jim Smagata
William Inge’s PICNIC captured all the tensions; status barriers and self-doubts of the teenaged angst. It was as if Inge had been a fly on our personal walls and then held up a mirror for us to view ourselves. Theatre Erindale and director Patrick Young has caught the essence of the era and emerging adult responsibilities but the characterizations are uneven.
Briefly, the plot illustrates how a catalytic intruder can disrupt the status quo. A drifter stops in a backwater Kansas town to essentially visit his old college roommate but has another agenda. Handsome, charismatic and self-assured, his effect on the community is the epitome of what ‘the Fonz’ paraphrased in “Happy Days”. Hal Carter is a physical and emotional disruption and Roberto Esteves bags all the unsubtle ‘bad boy’ imagery necessary to portray such a role. Bearing a strong resemblance to Lou Diamond Phillips also adds credence to his Hal being an almost-movie star. Esteves is the kid we all desired but never dated, back then.
The love interest is Madge Owens and Eilish Waller has both the physical and thespian characteristics of the Town’s beauty queen. The role demands an ability to convincingly demonstrate self-doubt and a longing for something inexplicable. Waller brings credibility and realism to her interpretation of a young person. She seemingly has it all in her palm but is undergoing emotional introspection about her life; her future; and her sublimated desires. We’re obviously about to witness a potential volcano.
The cast has only three major male roles so obviously it is the women whose characters are most defined. Olivia Orton plays Madge’s younger sister Millie and she is immediately identifiable as the tomboy cum emerging young lady with all the changes that entail. Both Tomas Ketchum as Madge’s suitor Alan, and businessman Zachary Zulauf portraying Howard who’s dating the school teacher tenant in the Owens home, are only two-dimensional. Their acting nor direction is not at fault; rather the play fails to give us the meat to flesh out their personas or behavioral motives. There is no chemistry between Ketchum and Waller, nor are we given any rationale for Zulauf’s cavalier attitude toward his girlfriend. She’s powerfully portrayed by Hannah Ehman and she owns the play. Her cougarish-ness coupled with an intensity and sublimated sexiness are visceral and realistic. The gut-wrenching scene where she begs Zulauf to marry her is as intense as theatre gets. We’re all lachrymose and praying for her.
Flo is the head of the Owens household and as interpreted by Laura McCallum is forceful yet understated. Demanding the best for and from her daughters; she never reverts to histrionics. The final scene which relies solely on her changing facial expressions is a directorial example of expertise & competence. The audience is left emotionally drained.
PICNIC is at Erindale until February 1st.