In William Inge's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Picnic, the Bay Theatre folks spread a veritable entertainment banquet of delights - a visionary director, polished performances, a minimalist set exuding backyard Americana, authentic 1950s-era costumes and nostalgic music.
With this stunning production, which runs through March, Bay Theatre has reached yet another pinnacle of excellence.
The company's fame has spread from its 275 West St. stage to New York City, where Picnic's director, Gia Forakis, knew of the work of Bay's founders Lucinda Merry-Browne and Janet Luby. That's why she chose to direct here rather than accept another project.
The director was also attracted to a play that she reminds us in her program notes was "edgy theater in 1953," reflecting the "naturalism of the American vision and the limited roles for women" of that era.
Judging by the caliber of this production, it seems fortuitous for theatergoing Annapolis that Forakis made this choice.
She has drawn amazing performances from her cast. And, with the help of scenic designer Lee Savage, Bay's small space has been turned into a mid-20th century Kansas backyard. The production is aided by choreographer Lauri Petroy and choreographer/fight captain Andrew Pecoraro.
Inge's play captures the emotions and vulnerability of Kansas women half a century ago. Middle-aged Helen Potts, who cares for her invalid mother. Flo Owens, who is looking for a better life for her teenage daughters, beautiful Madge, who wants to be accepted as more than a doll, and her smart younger sister Millie. And Rosemary Sydney, who is the lonely spinster schoolteacher.
On Labor Day morning, muscular Hal Carter drifts into their backyard and stirs up long-suppressed feelings.
After two months' work at Eastport's Annapolis Athletic Club, Judson Davis has transformed himself into hunk Hal, and he offers strong dancing while summoning a gamut of emotions to become the conflicted character.
Hal ignites the interest of every female onstage and probably a few in the audience. His chemistry with Coty Warn's Madge is real.
Warn conveys her character's clashing emotions, expressing her frustration at being viewed as merely a pretty object. Together, Hal and Madge express an aching loneliness and vulnerability in their sensuous dance that eventually heats up the stage to create a rare theater moment.
Genevieve James plays Madge's 16-year-old sister, Millie, conveying the smarts, frustration and jealous rage at her prettier older sister.
Valerie Leonard portrays the girls' mother, Flo Owens, expressing a multitude of emotions through her body language while giving meaning to her every spoken line.
As Rosemary, Kathryn Falcone is strong in her scenes with boyfriend Howard, whom she begs to marry her. As Howard, Mark Poremba delivers a credible performance.
Brandon McCoy is believable as Madge's rich suitor (and Hal's one-time college roommate) Alan Seymour and is quite convincing in his fight scenes with Hal.
Marilyn Bennett adds to the mix as kindly Helen Potts, who takes in Hal.
Pecoraro, who choreographed these scenes, also energetically plays the role of paper boy Bomber, who torments young Millie.
A minor criticism: The recorded music played before Acts 1 and 2 is too loud, so much so that it is jarring and hardly sets the proper mood. Another is that the 50-star flag displayed throughout would have had 48 stars in the early 1950s. But what's a picnic without a few bugs? This is one that shouldn't be missed.
Performances through March 31 are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. For reservations call 410-268-1333.