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During the 1950’s, the plays of William Inge were ranked with Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller as the gold standard in American playwrighting. By the 60’s, his star began to wane and his works became less popular. Sadly, he committed suicide in 1973. While his plays continued to be produced, they appeared to have less staying power than those of his contemporaries. Perhaps his characters seemed somehow prosaic when compared with Williams’ flamboyant Southern eccentrics and Miller’s morally ambiguous protagonists. After all, Inge wrote about the people who lived next door.

Inge’s most popular play, Picnic is now playing in a richly detailed revival by Antaeus Theatre Company which belies any notion that his talent was a fluke of the times. Maybe the real problem is that recent directors have been satisfied with a surface interpretation from their actors. Certainly that is not the case with Cameron Watson, who expertly guides his cast to delve deep and completely inhabit the characters they portray. The production is funny, sexy, moving, and filled with life.

From the moment you encounter Robert Selander’s intricately realistic backyard setting, you know you are in good hands. This background is subtly aided by Jared A. Sayeg’s intuitive lighting design, while Jeff Gardner’s soundscape allows a passing train to actually rumble the floor beneath your feet. And all of this is before anyone makes an entrance.

Once they do enter, we are quickly introduced to five women who live in two adjoining houses in a small Kansas town. Their precarious equilibrium is completed upended when Mrs. Potts (Janellen Steininger) welcomes Hal Carter (Jason Dechert) into their world. Hal is a lively and unapologetically masculine drifter who has come to town seeking help from his fraternity buddy, Alan (Matthew Gallenstein). Emotions, which are typically kept hidden, begin to surface under the almost hypnotic influence of Hal’s shirtless torso.

Like Hal, Madge Owens (Jordan Monaghan) is aware that she can sail through life on her looks. But she’s discontented with her life and ambivalent about a relationship with Alan. Millie (Jackie Preciado) is the smart younger sister who’s hurt by, and envious of Madge’s easy popularity with the boys she’s just beginning to notice. Their mother, Flo (Rhonda Aldrich), sees in Hal the dangers of choosing passion over prudence—dangers she knows all too well. For Mrs. Potts, Hal is a reminder of youth and the husband she has lived without for so many years. For the Owens’ spinster border Rosemary (Shannon Holt), Hal is the unwitting catalyst for releasing the yearning and frustration simmering just below her surface,  feelings she hasn’t dared to share with longtime beau, Howard (Josh Clark).

Dechert’s Hal is an engaging man-boy whose bragging and show-off tendencies are defenses masking the hurt inside. I have never seen a Hal so visibly wounded, and it adds true depth to the character. It also makes Madge’s sudden passion for him more understandable. Monaghan’s Madge starts slowly, playing to our expectations that she is simply pretty and rather vapid. But she is full of surprises, and convincingly grows into a determined woman during the play’s 24 hours. Their chemistry is also believably slow to ignite, but by the time they start their impromptu dance, Hal’s twitching hips and Madge’s ease in following his steps threaten to ignite the porch, if not the neighborhood.

Rosemary has always been showy role, but Holt doesn’t grandstand. She ably plays the genial jokester of the first act, careful to keep up her guard while not always hiding her true feelings. But she is fearless in portraying Rosemary’s vengeful fury when she feels spurned by Hal and, ultimately, her desperation in begging Howard to marry her. Clark’s Howard is stronger than usual, and his libido is far from shut down.

Gallenstein’s Alan is the careful, nice guy who hero-worships Hal, living vicariously through his stories. He is angry and humiliated when Hal seduces Madge away, though there is a hint that he may care more for Hal than Madge. Preciado is a convincingly tomboyish Millie, who really does want guys like Alan to notice her. Aldrich is a mother doing her best to protect and advise her very different daughters, while Steininger brings an innate warmth and a natural sensitivity to Mrs. Potts.

As with all Antaeus productions, all the roles are shared by two actors.

Inge’s original ending for Picnic has Madge stay in town, rather than running off with Hal. He always preferred his original ending, feeling that it was more realistic. Late in life he revised Picnic as Summer Brave, including the “unhappy” ending. But watching Madge set out after Hal with her suitcase and gloves in the final moments of Picnic, one is only too aware that this ending is merely happy-for-now.

Antaeus Theatre Company     June 25 – August 16, 2015



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.