Picnic is a play by esteemed playwright William Inge. Directed by Joshua Logan, it premiered in 1953 at Broadway’s Music Box Theatre, running for 477 performances and winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 1955 it was adapted to the screen and went onto be nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Back Porch, directed by Kelie McIver, is now in a world-premier production at Burbank’s Victory Theatre. It is an inventive drama written by Eric Anderson and inspired by the making of the movie Picnic. As the play opens, several people are enjoying a late springtime afternoon in a tiny town in the middle of Kansas.
Among the porch people are Millard Goff (a convincingly good humored Jonathan Fishman), who’s a nearby neighbor and family friend of widower Barney Opat (Karl Maschek lending an authentic vulnerability to his characterization). Barney is the father of Gary, an 18-year-old who longs to escape the flatlands of rural Kansas to discover adventure elsewhere (Isaac W. Jay in an emotionally challenging turn), and 13-year-old Del Wayne (Cody Lemmon delivers humor and exposition through his young adolescent embodiment). Also, there’s a renter in the Opat household, voice and music teacher Myron Uhrig, who is essential in dispensing foreshadowing and promoting dramatic conflict (Myron is a character that we grow to enjoy despising thanks to Eric Zak’s commitment to this persona).
The tenor of the town is transformed when the filming of the movie Picnic is scheduled to take place on location. When the news of the movie being filmed right there in their longtime Kansas cocoon becomes known through Del Wayne’s announcement, the men are initially incredulous but soon made ecstatic by the event, which includes a call of extras to be drawn from the town’s people.
When Del Wayne informs his family and friends of meeting the movie’s star, William Holden, they are again made incredulous but soon become excited. They are especially intrigued by the invitation to Holden to visit their home, extended to Mr. Holden by young Del Wayne. The boy swears that Holden has agreed to make the visit.
Sure enough, a player from Picnic does make the visit, but it is Holden’s movie stand-in Bill Holman, not Bill Holden (Jordan Morgan inhabits Holman with genuineness and a cocky warmth). Nevertheless, from this awkward set of circumstances sparks do begin to fly. These sparks include love, romance, and a possible escape from the wheat fields of middle America. Is it a love story for the ages? Maybe, maybe not. But it is a timely and inventive tale infused with mid-century imagery, aided by Kenny Klimak’s set design and Molly Martin’s exquisite period costume design.
What: Back Porch.
Where: Victory Theatre, 3324 West Victory Boulevard, Burbank, 91505.
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8p.m. Sundays at 4 p.m. through July 9 (approximately 2 hour running time).
How: Call (818)533-1611 or visit onstage411.com/BackPorch.