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When William Inge’s “Picnic” first appeared on Broadway in 1953, it won a Pulitzer, a Tony and a New York Drama Critics’ Circle award. Sixty years later, it still has its bite, still powerfully explores human desire and despair and still reminds us what lust can do.

ReAct’s production, directed by David Hsieh, captures the ethos of America in the 1950s and proves that some, but not all, things are timeless. Life in Inge’s Kansas town explodes for two neighbor families when Hal, a buff, pretty-boy drifter, shows up looking for work. William Poole as Hal potently combines vulnerability and braggadocio. Just watch him move and think Alan Ladd or Paul Newman.

Without trying, he shows bright, awkward young Millie Owens (Sara L. Porkalob) that not all pleasure is found in books and teasing others. Her older and beautiful sister (the serene Alexa Oo), immediately smitten by Hal, throws away her chance to marry the town’s wealthiest bachelor, much to the horror of her mother, a single parent who wants so much more for her girls.

Meanwhile, the Owens’ boarder Rosemary (Nikki Visel), a spinster schoolteacher, fantasizes about a life she’ll never have, so grasps at the closest thing at hand: Howard, a local shopkeeper. Mark Waldstein, as hapless Howard, epitomizes a suitor lacking in romance and conviction. But he’s a man and that’s enough for Rosemary, who, in a funny yet poignant scene, convinces him to marry her.

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Burton K. Yuen’s set with its back porches and picket fence, combined with Chrystian Shepperd’s lighting, cleverly suit both the 1950s and contemporary times.

Inge’s play presents repressed women living when beauty counted most in the effort to capture a man. And life without a man was no life at all. That worldview is mostly gone, but what the 1950s and today share is throbbing sexual hunger — and there’s plenty of that in this exploration of love, lust, romance and heartbreak.

Nancy Worssam:

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