Picnic at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
Mama may be upstairs and oblivious to the goings on in the yard below, but there’s “a man in the house and it seems good.”
Like an ‘autumn awakening,’ the latest production by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (with guests from UWM’s Peck School of the Arts) serves up a basket full of sexual and emotional piques.
In William Inge’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, it is 1953 and Labor Day in a small town in Kansas. Dawn breaks with the townfolk’s rising expectation of a traditional end-of-summer picnic. Mrs. Potts (Raeleen McMillion) has taken in a drifter named Hal (Andrew Edwin Voss) to help with the chores in preparation. It’s going to be a hot day, and Hal has already worked up a sweat. He’s sturdy and shirtless. He starts up a fire to burn trash. A full can of cleaning fluid, inadvertently added to the blaze, explodes — a foreshadowing of the spontaneous combustion to follow.
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s collaboration with UWM includes a full spectrum of on- and off-stage participation by faculty, alumni and students. MCT Producing Artistic Director C. Michael Wright provides a very capable course, along with choreography by UWM Assistant Professor Tony Horne. Dance turns out to be one of the many vehicles in this play of not-so-subliminal messages. To complete the picture, Associate Professor Rick Graham designed a set with traditional old houses that frame the backyard to complete the idyllic small-town environment.
There are also some stand-outs in the large cast. Emily Vitrano debuts at MCT as Madge Owens, the beautiful but not-so-smart girlfriend of Alan Seymour (Max Hultquist). She exudes the right adolescent innocence despite a flirtatiousness and is a bright light in the show. Tami Workentin as Rosemary Sydney, the old maid schoolteacher, gives a wonderful performance. Her character takes charge of her fate and begs for the love of Howard Bevans, played here with equal strength by actor Bill Watson. His portrayal of an older bachelor encumbered by social expectations of male control is astute and charming.
Inge, as a gay playwright writing about straight lives, celebrates sexuality by tempering the masculine cause with feminine sensitivities and sensibilities. The male muscle as catalyst for self-discovery is combined with broken parental reins and the charade of domestic bliss in a successfully articulated Chamber production.
Picnic continues at the Broadway Theatre Center now through Nov. 1. For ticketing information and other features including a cast blog, visit the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre website. Reservations are available online or by calling 414-291-7800.