Stan ("Gossip Girl," "Captain America") has the right rugged looks for Hal, played by William Holden in the '55 film. He's a character built to be objectified as beefcake and to sizzle in shirtless scenes. Beefy Stan rivals the porterhouses at Peter Luger's and he brings out Hal's vulnerable side. Even better is Grace, a coltish blonde known for movies, including "Taken" and "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn." She's a natural onstage. Her work is assured and understated and brings an air of introspection to Madge.
PICNIC Broadway Reviews
Reviews of Picnic on Broadway. See what all the critics had to say and see all the ratings for Picnic including the New York Times and More...
Maggie Grace ("The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn," "Taken") has a coltish, leggy elegance as Madge Owens. Sebastian Stan ("Captain America"), the dreamy outsider Hal Carter, isn't shy about showing off his chiselled torso, which is good because Hal's keeps losing his shirt or having it torn off him. Too bad they share youth and good looks, but no sizzle - there's more sexual chemistry among the cast of "Old Jews Telling Jokes."
Director Sam Gold, who recently secured a spot on the A-list thanks to an association with playwright Annie Baker ("Circle Mirror Transformation"), provides a very enjoyable production that successfully combines the play's lighthearted, sadder and sensual aspects.
Inge might be amazed that his bittersweet examination of life's disappointments is here presented as a broader comedy, but director Sam Gold and the seasoned cast members mostly make it work...Gold has overlaid humorous interpretations onto Inge's stilted and dated dialogue, often to good effect, while still keeping the period feel. If this technique doesn't help amp up the tension that should be building throughout the play, it makes for good entertainment on the handsomely detailed set of scuffed-up houses with a claustrophobic rusty-looking wall towering above.
While the heat between the central couple in director Sam Gold's Broadway revival could have been turned up a notch, the veil of melancholy hanging over the play's characters generates a quiet poignancy...Despite producing four popular and critical successes in the 1950s, Inge's work has proven less durable than that of some of his contemporaries. His plays lack the thematic expansiveness of Arthur Miller, or the sad poetry of Tennessee Williams. But as a snapshot of a time and place that shows the solitude of small-town life for so many people, women especially, Picnic yields gentle rewards. And if Gold's staging muffles some of them, it nonetheless finds resonance in the play's bruised cynicism about love.
That's a lot of traffic, stylistically, and performances that don't match seem not to collide so much as move through each other, like ghosts. That's not to say the energies never align...As it stands, this Picnic is an ad hoc smorgasbord, where not all dishes are guaranteed to palate in perfect harmony. Not everything goes down smoothly, and one wonders if a bit more salt might've tied the whole thing together.
The voltage is more palpable in Joshua Logan's 1955 film starring a smoldering Kim Novak and a feral William Holden than it is in this earnestly detailed but sexless revival. Sebastian and Grace look the parts, but an essential element of palpable desire is missing...Still, if there's any justice in the world, a special Tony Award for most intense duet would go to Reed Birney and Elizabeth Marvel, who play Howard and Rosemary, the owner of a dry-goods store and a school teacher.
Sam Gold's new production is a mixed-bag stab at the play, pumping up the comedy in the first half, then going for slower, more somber tones in the second...But for this play to work--for it to be an American answer to Chekhov, with Tulsa standing in for Moscow--it's got to have a burning attraction at the center of it. Unfortunately, while Sebastian Stan has the glistening body for Hal...his performance is too posturey...And while Maggie Grace is lovely as Madge, she doesn't carve a distinctive figure, and certainly not one who seems fated to run off with Hal and gamble with the rest of her life. So the play about dashed hopes colliding with awakened desires isn't nearly as electric as it could be, but it's still a vintage trip back to muddled 1950s morality and the poetic hopes that rose up in spite of it.
My one quibble is with Stan's performance. Physique aside, it's sometimes hard to perceive Hal's mesmerizing appeal. The character remains blurry, and is too often played as a goofball. All in all, though, the production is theater you can sink your teeth into. Old-fashioned can be good.
More than any version of "Picnic" I've seen this one, which has been designed with period exactitude by Andrew Lieberman (set) and David Zinn (costumes), highlights the role of prettiness as both a burden and an aspiration...Mr. Stan...mostly registers as more of an objet d'art than a sex object. Ms. Grace...embodies Madge's small-town self-consciousness with an appealing ease...But except for in one dance sequence (nicely staged by Chase Brock), when Madge and Hal discover a shared rhythm, there's not much chemistry flowing between these two. Even clawing at each other's clothes, they somehow seem to be lost in their own, isolating thoughts. The same might be said of the cast as a whole. Which means that, lacking an electric current to invisibly connect its characters, this "Picnic" remains little more than a billboard for prettiness.
The best work comes from Ben Rappaport, as Alan; Ellen Burstyn, as widowed neighbor Helen Potts; and especially the terrific Mare Winningham, as Madge and Millie's anxious mother, Flo. Rappaport ably captures Alan's light self-confidence and straight-arrow wholesomeness alongside his unappealing but unconscious objectification of Madge. Burstyn's Helen is appropriately self-effacing and sweetly rejuvenated as Hal's presence reminds her that she can still experience feelings she thought were gone forever.
A stripped-down approach to match a stripped-down central character may one day restore Picnic's lustre; the setting here, a hulking house and porches designed by Andrew Lieberman, tends to overwhelm the performances, even when the interiors furnish an almost "American Gothic" glimpse of domesticity. This is a shame, because the play's central theme - how youthful beauty can be emotionally isolating - retains a certain potency. Maggie Grace, who plays 18-year-old Madge Owens, the pretty girl drawn into Hal's aura, gracefully registers the character's misfit quality, even as her chemistry with him doesn't greatly ignite.