COLUMBIA — MU's new production of "Picnic" shows the dangers of reckless lust in the postwar Midwest. William Inge's 1953 play tells of a drifter who wanders into a restrictive 1950s Kansas town and uses nothing but his sex appeal to throw the community into existential disarray.
“He’s very attractive and very charismatic," the play's director, Ron Zank, said, "and all the women in town are very infatuated with him, even as they disapprove of him.”
What: MU's production of “Picnic,” directed by Ron Zank
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday and Feb. 5-7; 2 p.m. Feb. 8
Where: The Corner Playhouse, in the Fine Arts Annex on the northeast corner of University Avenue and Hitt Street
Admission: Tickets $7; call 882-7529 or go to theatre.missouri.edu
The drifter, Hal, a former college football hero, causes havoc with his ladykilling tendencies. “In the course of one day, all of their lives are kind of transformed," Zank said. "I mean, relationships fall apart, and people leave, and some people decide to get married.”
Steven Buehler, the MU freshman who plays Hal, described his character as “just a really different individual, with different thoughts and different views and a different way of life … (His arrival) just shakes up the whole town.”
Though Buehler has appeared in commercials in his hometown of Lebanon, Mo., this is his first time performing live theater. He finds Hal’s appeal in “his goofy attractiveness. I think there’s just a lovable thing about him despite the fact that he steals his girlfriends and disrupts everyone’s lives.”
But Hal’s interference with normal family life in the town doesn’t just come from wanton womanizing. “He certainly pays attention to (pretty girls), but whether he’s seeking to ruin relationships and that type of thing – I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case,” Zank said. “Maybe he does womanize because that’s the only way he can connect with people.”
So he’s less of an Alfie and more of a Dionysus, the ancient Greek god who inspired such fervor in his female followers that they tore men and animals limb from limb with their bare hands. That energy is easily felt during the performance.
Although Hal could be described as the play’s main character, he certainly doesn’t monopolize the audience’s attention.
“We’ve got a really interesting cast,” said Zank, who is a doctoral student in theater at MU. “It’s a really beautiful ensemble piece. It’s really everybody getting their moment to shine.”
Buehler feels confident about “Picnic." "We’ve been working really hard on it," he said. "I’m excited to see what it’s going to look like at the end there, actually."
And as for his thoughts on performing in front of an audience for the first time?
“It’s going to be a lot different with an actual crowd.”