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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, May 29, 2024


Feb. 13, 2002 – St. John's Epiphany Theater Company opens its third production Friday night, again venturing into classic 1950s Americana, this time with William Inge's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "Picnic."
The play is being staged on the third floor of the Marketplace complex in Cruz Bay, but not in the partially open space utilized for the company's two previous productions, Inge's "Bus Stop" a year ago and "The Tender Trap" last summer. Epiphany — or ETC as the company has taken to calling itself — has spent the last few months converting a larger area that had been warehouse space above St. John Hardware into a fully enclosed 170-seat theater.
Performances are set for three weekends — this Friday, Saturday and Sunday plus Feb. 22-24 and March 1-3.
"Picnic" is set in the sultry summer heat of a quiet Kansas town a few years after World War II. A hunk named Hal Carter shows up on Labor Day weekend to look up an old buddy, Alan, in the hope of getting a job or a loan and soon sets off fireworks — stealing his friend's fiancee, Madge; making her sister Millie jealous; leading a lonely schoolteacher to humiliate herself in front of the whole town; and sending assorted other females into a tizzy.
Madge's family and friends persuade her that Hal is a ne'er-do-well, not worth her giving up a good marriage-in-the-making with Alan. But will her head overrule her heart — or her hormones?
Some of the dialogue takes place in the adjoining back yards of Madge's mother's house and that of a neighbor woman who lives with her invalid mother. But the big scene is at the annual Labor Day picnic. "In a town of silent desperation," as one synopsis puts it, "tension builds and repressed desires sizzle to the surface, threatening their quiet existence."
The play won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for drama and Critics Circle Award. The film adaptation won 1955 Academy Awards for best editing and best color film art direction; it also was nominated for best picture, best director (Joshua Logan), best supporting actor and best non-musical score.
Who's who
Heading the cast of four men and seven women in the Epiphany production are Jeff Crokin, an ETC newcomer, as Hal, and Liza Mostsinsker, who had the female lead in "Bus Stop" and a supporting role in "The Tender Trap," as Madge.
Ruthellen Mulberg (half of St. John's "Captain Magic and Dr. Cha-Cha-Cha" music, magic and mind-reading act), in her ETC debut, plays the spinster teacher. Tim Jackson, who appeared in "Bus Stop," is her gentleman friend.
Playing Madge's fiancé, Alan, is John Grammer, in his first ETC role (but yes, acting runs in the family — he's Kelsey's brother). Debra Grammer, John's wife, also an ETC newcomer, plays Madge's mother. Cast as the neighbor, Helen, is Cynthia Smith, who appeared in "The Tender Trap."
Two Coral Bay School students have roles — Jennifer Gibbud as Madge's sister Millie, and Paul Nellis as Bomber, the paper boy. Rounding out the cast, also as schoolteachers, are Tracy Ricks and Marni Walters, both in their ETC debuts.
Paul Devine is the producer and Frank Bartolucci is the director, as he was for the two previous productions.
Devine, owner of St. John Electric, had no previous stage experience prior to auditioning for a role in "Bus Stop," then was cast again in "The Tender Trap." Bartolucci has a master's degree in directing and a background in theater and film. His day job is as convention services director at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort.
Company founder Michael Beason is the executive producer and also is sharing sound production duties with Andy Gordon. Lisa Duncan is assistant director, Mike "Red" Cassell is in charge of lighting, and Ginny Peck is the publicist. The choreography is by Elizabeth Putnam. Deanna Somerville is the stage manager, reprising her job in "The Tender Trap." Linda Willard is costume mistress and Jay Walkowitz is props master. The sets were designed by Laurie VanKuren, Carol Creel and Willard.
All St. John, all volunteer
Although "Picnic" is an adult drama, it's suitable for a general audience, as far as Beason is concerned. "This was a kind of daring, racy play in 1953, but it's nothing compared to what you see on the soaps today," he says. "There's some mild language, but that's about it."
(Trivia note from Hal Erickson, in the "All Movie Guide" online: For the film version, William Holden, who played Hal, "was obliged to shave his chest, lest his hairy torso cause the female moviegoers to conjure up impure thoughts.")
Devine takes pride in "Picnic" being entirely a St. John community effort — "the actors and the production staff, and everything volunteer." He also notes that the opening weekend's performances are a part of the second annual St. John Arts Festival.
"The Marketplace people were nice enough to give us the space, and we've put in the electricity, the lighting fixtures, the smoke detectors," Devine says. "We made it soundproof, and we pay the insurance and the utilities."
ETC is "looking for continued use of the space" by other community groups, he adds, noting that on Feb. 28 touring blues singer Deborah Coleman and her band will be there for a St. John School of the Arts concert.
Epiphany was established in 2000 as a not-for-profit St. John community theater organization. Its three productions to date have all been 1950s award-winning Broadway plays that succeeded again as box-office hit movies.
Beason says the production staff decides collectively on what plays to do. It's a "discussion" process, he says. "We talk it over, and eventually we reach a consensus."
But he readily acknowledges that ETC's endeavors to date have not covered broad theatrical terrain. "I'm trying like hell to get us out of the '50s and out of Kansas," he says with a chuckle. "I really hope the next show will be something entirely different."
Curtain time for "Picnic" is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. They're being sold at Connections and Tropicale.

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