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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Repertory Actors Theatre Lays Out a Satisfying Picnic at Richard Hugo House

Picnic
Kathy Hsieh, Dorcas Lewis, Nikki Visel and Faith Russell
Celebrating its 20th season, Repertory Actors Theatre (aka ReAct) scores a feast of fine performances with William Inge's Pulitzer Prize winning 1953 drama Picnic. Sensitively directed by David Hsieh, this still potent emotional drama recounts what happens during the course of a Kansas Labor Day picnic and its aftermath (though the event itself takes place offstage). It is a unique look at the play in Re-Act's established non-traditional casting of the Owens family as Asian-American.

A drifter named Hal has a profound effect on the Owens family, an all-female household made up of mother Flo, tomboy younger sister Millie, and lovely older sister Madge. Hal lands himself work helping out the spinster neighbor lady Helen Potts who lives next door to the Owens, and reacquaints himself with Alan, his well-off former fraternity brother who is dating Madge. An instantaneous attraction develops between Hal and Madge, while a subplot involving the Owens' boarder, old maid schoolteacher Rosemary, and her erstwhile beau Howard. In the course of the action Madge must decide between the safe choice of Alan or her sexual attraction to Hal, and Rosemary, after too many drinks, humiliates herself begging the sheepish Howard to marry her. The morning after the picnic brings changes to the lives of all involved.

William Poole is a suitable Hal, with a sort of young Robert Redford-ish appearance and a handsome physique which is displayed with the character being shirtless through much of the play, leaving the women in the story to ogle him admiringly. Alexa Oo makes a most attractive, wistful Madge, and she and Poole have a good chemistry in their scenes. Kathy Hsieh is luminous and heartfelt as Madge's concerned yet supportive Mother Flo, and Sara Porkalob is a winningly boisterous yet touching Millie. Nikki Visel conveys the growing desperation and sexual frustrations of Rosemary, while Mark Waldstein exhibits a wry, understated sense of humor as Howard. Perhaps the evening's best performance comes from Faith Russell as Mrs. Potts, the neighbor who has devoted her life to caring for an increasingly dependent mother (portrayed only as a nagging offstage voice). Russell's performance crackles with the authentic warmth, humor and tenderness of a woman whose life has only been brightened by watching her neighbor's family grow up.

The exterior backyard settings of the Owens and Potts families are well realized by scenic designer Burton K. Yuen, and enhanced by lighting designer Chrystian Shepperd. Jocelyne Fowler's costumes capture the era and simplicity of the characters well. Choreographer Samuel Pettit makes sure the dancing moments involved feel organic to the characters and don't erupt into polished looking steps.

The Richard Hugo House's malfunctioning air-conditioning notwithstanding, ReAct's Picnic makes a good case for both the play and this always enterprising theatre company.

Picnic runs through August 3, 2013, at Richard Hugo House 1634 Eleventh Avenue in Seattle's Capitol Hill area. For ticketing and more information, visitwww.reacttheatre.org.


Photo: Rick Wong



- David Edward Hughes



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