Award-winning play 'Picnic' opens May 23 at Richland Players

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldMay 14, 2014 

Can one man change a town?

He can if he's Hal Carter, the lead character from the Broadway award-winning play Picnic, which opens at 8 p.m. May 23 at the Players Theatre in Richland.

Picnic is a three-act play by William Inge, who also penned Bus Stop and Come Back, Little Sheba.

Hal is a good-looking, sexy guy with a charming personality who talks big -- though he hasn't done anything worthwhile in his life.

He drifts into a rural Kansas town on Labor Day weekend to visit a college buddy, who he hopes will find him a good job. His presence has the townfolks cautious, and the women swoon over his handsomeness and charm. But they, too, stand wary of his motives.

Christopher Wilson, 21, of West Richland, plays Hal. Tackling the role of a big talker was easier than he thought, but not because he identifies with the character, he said.

"It's easy to play someone who's not at all like yourself," Wilson said. "I think it would be much more difficult to play a role on stage that was too much like myself. That takes a deeper concept in acting, and I don't think I could do that well. But Hal is fun to portray, and I'm working with an awesome cast."

This is Wilson's third play with the Players group since graduating from Hanford High in 2012. He has his sights set on a film career. He's done local commercial work and played a small role in the film Hello, My Name is Frank, which was partially filmed in the Tri-Cities last year and starred Garrett M. Brown.

But Hollywood is on hold for now while he hones his craft as the lead in Picnic.

Gail Harder of Kahlotus plays Hal's love interest, Madge. It's a role she takes seriously.

"This role is very important to me. I found after delving further into her character that Madge and I are very similar," Harder said. "Madge is a dreamer, and she dreams about meeting a wonderful person who will take her away from her mundane life in the small Kansas town she lives in.

"I, too, dream about leaving my small town and becoming successful on my own."

As the story of Picnic unfolds in the 1950s, Madge is involved with Hal's college buddy Alan, played by Chris Garcia of Pasco. But sparks fly when she meets Hal at the town picnic. Her younger sister Millie, played by McKenzie Kennedy of Kennewick, also has eyes for the handsome Hal, much to the dismay of the sisters' mother Flo, played by veteran Richland actor Julie Gephart Wiley.

"Millie is kind of a tomboy and doesn't really have her sights set on boys yet, though she likes Alan and is interested in Hal," Kennedy says of her character. "But she allows herself to get dressed up for special occasions such as the picnic.

"What I really like about Millie is that she doesn't falter from what she wants, and is determined to get out of Kansas and move to New York. I relate to Millie. She has spunk and is kind of sassy."

Director Wanda Needham was drawn to the play by the insight the playwright had with his characters.

"William Inge shows us the many sides of people's character and personality," she said. "Inge also has a wonderful ability to write a story with a great plot and subplots. Picnic tells the story of how one man arriving in a small Midwestern town can change a whole family and those surrounding them."

Sherry Teachout of Richland plays Helen Potts, who pines over her lost youth. Christy Batayola of Kennewick plays Rosemary Sydney, a gossipy old-school teacher who pretends to be happy in her singlehood. Alan Tindell of Richland plays Howard Bevans, a businessman dating Rosemary. Hunter Spurlock of Kennewick plays Bomber, who worships Madge because of her beauty and criticizes Millie because she's an oddball.

Jennifer Olson of Kennewick and Kelley Smith of Richland play Irma Kronkite and Christine Schoenwalker, schoolteachers who spend their time gossiping with Rosemary.

Picnic continues at 8 p.m. May 24, 30-31 and June 6-7, with 2 p.m. matinees June 1 and 8.

Admission is $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. Tickets are available at or at the box office, 610 The Parkway, Richland.

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514;; Twitter: @dorioneal

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