It’s not often that Paul Newman has been denied the role he wanted, but the first time the Oscar winner appeared on Broadway the director found him too lacking in athletic abilities to take the lead so Newman had to settle for a smaller role. The play went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1953 along with the Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play of the Season, and Cool Hand Paul moved into the lead.

That play, William Inge’s “Picnic” will make its Jacksonville debut at the Playhouse on the Square July 31st then run Aug 1-2, and 7-8. Tickets can be purchased at Our Town Books, the Soap Company Coffee Shop or by calling 217.491.3977. Kim Shaffer will be directing the prize-winning drama with a cast including Laurie McCoy, Roy Pyers, Carolyn Wood, Hannah Hogan, Becky Lawson, Sherri Mitchell, Brandon Coniglio, Marilyn Webster, Joey Lawson, Lynette Cervi and Mike Schneider.

Although Inge’s Picnic has been made into a movie, a musical, and an operetta, it’s the Pulitzer winning play that has enjoyed the longest run over the decades due to the fact that it strikes such a truthful chord with audiences, especially those in the Midwest which forms the play’s setting. In fact, Inge, who died forty years ago has often been called, “the voice of Middle America,” as his themes tell of a landscape where barn dances were being replaced by Buddy Holly, and the youth of America began experiencing aspirations that were a puzzle to their parents. The play is set prior to Labor Day in the 1950’s and a picnic is being planned. All seems normal until a handsome young drifter walks into town and its here that Inge’s genius for drawing characters puts the play in the forefront of memorable American drama.

Brandon Coniglio who plays Alan says that the play calls for very naturalistic acting. He said, “And I feel a lot of similarities to myself.” Director Kim Shafer speaks in glowing terms about her cast. “There are times I look at this cast and think, ‘Wow! Who cast this show?’ They’re a wonderfully talented group,” said Shafer.

Jacksonville native Roy Pyers who plays the young vagabond who stirs up the small town warns that the title might be misleading, calling it a “steamy, can’t-miss drama.” Pyers most recently appeared in the Playhouse productions of You Can’t Take it With You, and The Laramie Project.

Ironically, the picnic in Picnic never happens onstage so the audience members can make their own courtesy of The Soap Company Coffee Shop located next door to the theatre. If Paul Newman didn’t get his choice at the first Picnic perhaps they’ll be serving his salad dressing at the Jacksonville opening.

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About the author

Ken Bradbury is an adjunct instructor of theatre at LLLC after retiring from Triopia. He entertains on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat and is the author of over 300 published plays. Website: creativeideas.com

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