Picnic - Nothing, Not Even the Picnic

There is something to be said for giving the audience what the show spent an entire first act and then some alluding to. You know, all that hype they build up towards some scene or climax, also known as a 'payoff' or something.

In the case of Picnic, the Sam Gold-directed revival now open at the American Airlines Theater, the citizens in nowheres Kansas circa mid-20th century - with a focus on unsettled and aloof Hal as he tries to woo Madge, the pretty girl that lives next door to the neighbor he's doing temp work for - are cavorting about on the morning leading up to a Labor-Day picnic. The tension (if you can call it that) pertains to Hal's backstory, appearance and mannerisms, not to mention the impression he casts when accompanying the group involved. Okay, I get it...a little pedestrian, but there is at least something there to work off of and keep my attention.

So, riddle me this...why don't we actually see the picnic?

Ladies, don't act like you don't love the view.
Lucky bitches.
No, really...about 80 percent of the show is everyone talking and being all period-like in anticipation of this picnic, and then...well, stuff goes down between the central relationship, everyone is suspicious of Hal, but they love his abs, blah blah blah I'm bored, bring on the picnic blah blah blah...but before I knew it, there's this fade-to-black and the story resumes post-picnic, in a pretty darkly-lit stage (for live theater, that is) with almost no one talking about it anymore or even trying to fill in the blank of what went down during those unseen hours. I'm sorry...what???

I don't mean to be so technical and obviously, the story doesn't need to spend a large portion of time or even close out at this famous picnic. But the story has nothing else - absolutely NOTHING else - going for it and when it can't even offer up the one thing that everyone is waiting for, what's the point? If the picnic meant something (I'd think about it harder, but I am too utterly bored) or if there was enough substance outside of it, then I am right there with ya.

But without it, the audience engagement at Picnic is pretty much all of us sitting around watching the cast SIT AROUND. Where's the show in that? I mean it when I say that all of us (the audience and the cast) is waiting for this story to happen...but we don't even get some mild attempt at it because the entire thing is just omitted entirely. I'm sorry, but that had got to be the most misleading and anti-climatic thing that I have seen in a long time.

Look, you want to go for this coming-of-age, suspended in time, indie feel? Go right ahead; that aspect was almost fully-realized, courtesy of a nice, understated set by Andrew Lieberman and David Zinn's costuming. And at least Sebastian Stan, playing Hal, has stage presence to spare. Even so, him being shirtless, sculpted and sweaty (otherwise know as the three dirty-hot S's) overshadowed everything else in the production, but on the bright side, that was my favorite aspect in the face of the aggressively uneventful surroundings.

And while this ensemble has a script o' nothing to work with, Maggie Grace's Madge and her not-even-trying performance was...well, it was the nail in the coffin of an already disappointing show, but at least I found some unintentional humor at her efforts.

But when it comes down to it, Picnic is all about the story and that, above anything else, is a mega-fail. Maybe William Inges' story doesn't hold up well since it's debut in the early-50's or maybe Sam Gold's direction is to blame...but one thing is for sure, this revival of Picnic committed a cardinal sin: it bored me to tears. And that ain't no picnic...

Bad pun intended.

Photo Credit: Joshua Bright, NYTimes.com

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