The six pack referred to here has nothing to do with beer but the handsome young stud Hal Carter (Sebastian Stan) whose pack unleashes a sexual wallop on all the females who come into his path. A drifter, trying to earn a few bucks in exchange for a place to stay and a meal, causes quite a stir among the ladies in this Midwestern Kansas town who are in preparation for the Labor Day picnic.
This revival of William Inge’ 1953 play, that won him a Pulitzer Prize and originally featured Ralph Meeker, Eileen Heckart, Arthur O'Connell, Janice Rule, Reta Shaw, Kim Stanley and Paul Newman in his Broadway debut, is a story about sexual repression, desperation, discontents and highlights an era where women had to have a man to survive. In 1955, it was made into a film starring William Holden and Kim Novak.
Hal has been taken in by Mrs. Helen Potts (the excellent Ellen Burstyn), to do odd jobs. She’s old enough to be his granny, but still has an eye for his well toned, shirtless body as he wanders here and there displaying himself while doing his chores.
The fast talking Hal Carter seems to have raised the heat level with all the women in this small town even earthy, loud Rosemary (Elizabeth Marvel), a school teacher of a certain age who rents a room in Flo’s house, has more than an eye for Hal, when in a drunken moment she rips his shirt as she reveals her desperation, later pleading with her long term boyfriend Howard (low key, understated Reed Birney) to marry her.
The beautiful 18 year old Madge Owens (Maggie Grace) is caught up with looking in the mirror a lot as she echoes the tell-tail line “the only way I can prove to myself I’m alive.” The fact is that all the ladies seem to be concerned with how they look and spend a good deal of time looking in their mirrors, primping and preening while a fair amount of comic infused lines lighten up and do justice with Sam Gold’s direction. The somewhat tattered houses, with peek-a-boo windows to the inside, complete Andrew Lieberman’s set design vision.
Madge has been dating the town’s rich bachelor Alan Seymour (Ben Rappaport), whom her protective mother Flo (the perfectly cast Mare Winningham) keeps pushing her to marry. But it goes without saying that Hal has his eye on Madge and she is caught up with him as her thoughts take her elsewhere whenever she hears the train whistle. Madge’s younger sister Millie (Madeleine Martin, with a very shrill projecting voice), is also gaga over Hal. It’s difficult to believe that the coarse Hal was a frat buddy of Alan’s or that he ever went to college, his swaggering, low class behavior so unseemly.
While the picnic goes on, there are other kinds of goings on as Madge and Hal find love and display a sexually infused dance together. There does need to be some more heat turned up, especially for Ms. Grace, to raise the belief level.
You won’t rave but you will revel in Inge’s beautifully written piece with some good performances. “Picnic” runs thru February 24th, 2 hours, 5 minutes at the American Airlines Theatre, West 42nd Street, NYC