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Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2007 02:31 pm

Hello, neighbor!

UIS presents a romantic drama by a Pulitzer-winning playwright

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Shirene Thomas and Tom Hutchison (who play Rosemary and Howard) rehearse a scene.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MISSY THIBODEAUX-THOMPSON
Untitled Document Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson, director of the University of Illinois-Springfield theater department’s fall production, Picnic, held rehearsals five nights a week for more than a month before opening the William Inge romantic drama this Friday. She’s ready for a little shut-eye. “I think I’m putting a bed in my office,” Thibodeaux-Thompson says. “The last couple of weeks are crunch time.”
Thibodeaux-Thompson’s production of the 1953 play, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, features an ensemble cast of 11 actors — including community members Mary Myers, Aasne Vigesaa, and Shirene Thomas — and runs for two consecutive weekends, starting Friday. Picnic is set on a Labor Day sometime in the early 1950s, in the back yards of two widowed neighbors’ homes. Flo Owens, played by Vigesaa, occupies one house with her two daughters, Madge and Millie, and an unattached teacher. In the other house is Helen Potts, played by Myers, who cares for her invalid mother. When a young bachelor, Hal Carter, blows into town, each of the women has a different reaction to his strong presence. Thibodeaux-Thompson says that she was initially drawn to the play by the character breakdown — more specifically, because of the number of female roles she would get to cast. “[Picnic] makes some really interesting statements about women and about our world,” Thibodeaux-Thompson says. “Fifty years later, a lot of things have changed, and a lot of things haven’t.”
Apparently she’s not the only person interested in the works of Inge, who was dubbed “playwright of the Midwest.” After Picnic had been chosen, Thibodeaux-Thompson realized that Inge’s plays were in the midst of a renaissance. Chicago’s Shattered Globe Theatre, Glencoe’s Writer’s Theatre, and the American Theatre Company, based on Chicago’s North Side, all performed Inge plays in 2006. “[Picnic is] something our audience needs to see. It’s a genre-type piece that we don’t see around these parts,” Thibodeaux-Thompson says. “This play is very quote-unquote realistic. The real challenge is the language — it’s American English, but it’s the 1950s.”
Common terms were defined differently then, says the director. For example, “make love,” meant to woo someone. To help everyone understand the vernacular of the time, Thibodeaux-Thompson’s student dramaturge created a glossary, which is included in the program. “I’ve spent a lot of time and energy concerned with the world of the play for the audience, as well as the actors,” Thibodeaux-Thompson says. “It’s not Victorian and it’s not Elizabethan, but it is a period piece.”

Picnic opens at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26, in the Studio Theatre, located in UIS’s Public Affairs Center. Other performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Oct. 27 and 28 and Nov. 1-3 and for 2 p.m. Oct. 28. For tickets, call 217-206-6160 or go to www.uis.edu/theatre.

Contact Marissa Monson at mmonson@illinoistimes.com.
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