THE BLOG
01/18/2013 11:59 am ET Updated Mar 20, 2013

Stage Door: Picnic, Erth's Dinosaur Zoo

Life in 1950s Kansas was no picnic. Beneath the repressive conventions of small-town life, desire smolders. In this poignant revival of William Inge's Picnic, now at the American Airlines Theater, sexual allure and sadness co-mingle with emotionally explosive results.

When beefy drifter Hal Carter (super-buffed Sebastian Stan) comes to town, he ignites a variety of feelings in local beauty Madge (Maggie Grace) and her brainy tomboy sister Millie (Madeleine Martin). He also raises the protective instincts of Mrs. Potts (Ellen Burstyn) and the suspicions of the girls' weary mother (Mare Winningham). Both seasoned actresses are a pleasure to watch.

The women are either trapped or longing for escape, which explains why the play packed punch in 1953, when it won the Pulitzer Prize. While some of its mores may seem dated, Picnic's excellent cast mines its emotional nuances.

Hal is a braggart, a former fraternity brother of Alan (Ben Rappaport), the town's rich boy who is stuck on Madge's beauty and availability. He is her ticket out of a dreary, working-class existence; but Madge, who aches to be appreciated for other than her looks, is drawn to the bad boy.

Their mutual sensitivities, sparked by sexual attraction, are aided by chemistry between the leads. Grace layers her performance, the obliging girl who takes the ultimate risk. Stan gives Hal his props; his physique speaks for itself. But passions thwarted are the undercurrent here. Schoolteacher Rosemary (Elizabeth Marvel) boasts of her independent life, but begs unsure, middle-aged Howard (Reed Birney) to marry her. Mrs. Potts misses her youth, while Millie, who dreams of New York and college, also resents being stereotyped.

Inge examines stifling small-town society at a time when rigid assumptions about class, gender and sex were the norm. Sam Gold gently directs his actors in a classic American play that dips beneath the surface to reveal lives of quiet desperation.

On the children's theater front, Erth's Dinosaur Zoo, an interactive 50-minute show from Australia, introduces the crowd (ages six and up) to Mesozoic monsters. It is set in the Australian outback, where a ranger and dino keepers introduce these prehistoric creatures.

Given the life-like artistry, the show at the New Victory Theater is not recommended for younger, more impressionable kids. It's a theatrical version of a wildlife experience, complete with aerial techniques.

Skilled puppeteers operate the dinosaurs, which respond to audiences in scary and sweet ways. Creatures are handmade from Lycra, plastic and foam, crafted with an eye on realism.

Erth is meant to be entertaining and educational: audiences meet a dryosaur, titanosaur and tyrannosaur, predatory dinosaurs that lived in the late Jurassic Period, among others. Post-show, kids can even pet these man-made marvels.

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