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Theatre of Western Springs plans an intense ‘Picnic’

Tom McGregor and Stephanie Grady star in
Tom McGregor and Stephanie Grady star in "Picnic" at Theatre of Western Springs.

A handsome drifter named Hal stirs things up in a small town as people prepare for the annual Labor Day Picnic in William Inge’s “Picnic.”

The play is set in a rural area in the 1950s, but Artistic Director Rick Snyder, who directs the drama for the Theatre of Western Springs, believes it’s themes are universal. “The human interactions and the human desires haven’t changed,” Snyder declared. “It’s the same sexual attraction, and people disappointed with their lives.”

Snyder noted that his first experience directing a play by Inge was “Bus Stop” for Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe a number of years ago. He said that initially it appears as if nothing is going on in either Inge play, “but as you work on it, all these layers unfold and it’s quite deep emotionally.”

Snyder spoke of Flora who, because she had a bad experience with a man, tries to stop her daughters from making the same mistake. But she didn’t count on the power that Hal would have over her older daughter Madge.

The role of Hal is played by Tom McGregor, who has been in two other mainstage shows at the Theatre of Western Springs since connecting with the company about a year ago. McGregor described Hal as “a very cocky, kind of confident, guy. He’s a guy’s guy. But what you see throughout the play — especially with Madge — are his insecurities. You see that maybe some of this is an act, a way of covering for those insecurities.”

Hal may seem like someone with wanderlust but McGregor believes that he really wants to settle down and have a normal life. “He keeps getting himself into situations that are no good for anyone,” the actor related. “He gets romantically involved with someone and it doesn’t end well. He’s finally tired of that. He sees Madge as a way to start fresh.”

“Madge, like all of the characters, goes through quite a transition throughout the course of the play,” said Stephanie Grady who plays Hal’s romantic interest. “In the beginning, she’s lonely but she’s hopeful and has these ideas of what she’d like her life to be. She wants her life to be important. She wants it to mean something.”

Although Madge undoubtedly is physically attracted to Hal, there’s something more that draws her to him. “He’s unlike all of the guys in the town,” Grady said. “But, more than that, it’s the things that he says to her. And the things that he says about himself and what he’s hoping for his life to be. She sees in him similar qualities in this idea of wanting their lives to be beyond themselves and real.”

Being real would mean that people saw past Madge’s outer beauty, Grady indicated.

By the end of the play, Madge has a huge decision to make that will affect both her life and Hal’s.

Grady directed a children’s show for the Theatre of Western Springs but this is her first adult show with the company. In fact, it’s the first time onstage in about four years for Grady, who has been directing and teaching theater. She will leave shortly for Emerson College in Boston to pursue a graduate degree in theater education.

Before that happens, though, Grady will help Madge reach her goals in “Picnic.”

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