PICNIC


Libretto:
David Holley

Cast:
Madge Owens (soprano), Flo's older daughter
Millie Owens (soprano), Flo's younger daughter
Flo Owens (soprano), Madge and Millies' mother
Hal Carter (baritone), a drifter
Alan Seymour (tenor), Madge's boyfriend
Helen Potts (contralto), neighbor of the Owen's house
Rosemary Sydney (mezzo-soprano), a school teacher and boarder in the Owens house
Howard Bevans (bass), Rosemary's boyfriend
Christine Schoenwalder (soprano), teacher with Rosemary
Irma Kronkite (soprano), teacher with Rosemary
Ernie Higgins Singer (soprano), a singer in the band

Instrumentation:
6 sopranos, baritone, tenor, contralto, mezzo-soprano, bass, orchestra: 2 flutes, piccolo, oboe, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoon, 4 saxophones, horn, trumpet, 3 trombones, piano, 2 percussion, jazz combo: piano, double bass, drum set, trumpet

Text: William Inge, story.

Duration: 120 minutes

Premiere:
April 2, 2009 at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Available From:
Libby Larsen Publishing

Composer's Notes:
Synopsis:
 
Act I - Labor Day morning, in a small, rural Kansas town. Flo Owens and her next door neighbor, Helen Potts, are getting ready for the annual Labor Day picnic. Hal Carter, a drifter who has just arrived in town, passes by and smells Mrs. Potts’s cake cooling on the window sill and stops, in hopes of satisfying his hunger. Mrs. Potts sees him and invites him into her house for breakfast in exchange for some yard work. Flo has two young daughters who are very different from each other: Madge is the eldest and is beautiful, while Millie doesn’t care much about anything but art and literature. They begin to bicker, but Flo dismisses Millie into the house while she marks the hem of Madge’s new dress. The conversation gravitates to Madge’s well-connected boyfriend, Alan Seymour, a young man whom Flo would very much like for Madge to marry, and about whom Madge is essentially indifferent. Hal comes out of Mrs. Potts’s house and meets Madge. The attraction is immediate and mutual, but Flo hastily dispatches the young man. Rosemary Sydney, a school teacher and boarder in the Owens’ house, comes outside and begins to discuss men, including her boyfriend, Howard. She is obviously intrigued but feigns disgust at the sight of Hal, who is working bare-chested in Mrs. Potts’s yard. Mrs. Potts and Hal come back from her yard just as Alan arrives, and he recognizes Hal—they went to college together. Hal tells Alan that he actually came to town specifically to see if Alan could help him get a job. Before Flo can object, Helen invites Hal to be Millie’s date for the picnic. Alan tells Hal he is taking Millie swimming and invites him to come along, and as everyone disperses to continue readying for the day’s festivities, Alan and Madge are left alone.

Act II - Late afternoon, the same day:
Millie nervously asks Madge how to talk to boys—she’s never had a date to the picnic before. Flo is wary of Hal and asks Madge to look after Millie to make sure no one drinks. Rosemary returns from a luncheon with her fellow school teachers, Irma and Christine, chattering about the food at the luncheon. They say goodbye as Howard arrives, followed by Alan and Hal shortly thereafter. Alan introduces Hal to everyone, including Madge, unaware that they had met earlier. Prone to hyperbole, Hal talks about his past, including his “very influential” father. Flo changes the subject by sending Madge upstairs to get ready, and she asks Alan to help her in the kitchen. Millie shows Hal some of her artwork and begins to sketch him, while Howard and Rosemary admire the setting sun. Howard produces a bottle of whiskey from which Rosemary takes a drink, but Hal prevents Millie from sampling any. Rosemary declares she needs a drink of water, and she and Millie exit to get some. Howard and Hal are left alone, and they observe Madge through her upstairs window getting ready. Rosemary and Millie return, while the music of Ernie Higgins and the Happiness Boys (the band playing at the picnic) can be heard in the distance. Hal tries to teach Millie a fancy dance step, and when Madge steps outside in her new dress, Howard asks her to dance (although he earlier declined Rosemary’s request to dance). Rosemary separates Howard and Madge, and Madge notices Hal dancing with Millie. She enters into the yard and is able to immediately execute the step Hal was trying to teach Millie, catching Hal’s attention. Hal and Madge begin to dance together, ignoring Millie, who begins to inspect the whiskey bottle. Howard again declines Rosemary’s invitation to dance, so she cuts in on Hal and Madge, becoming increasingly bawdy and raucous, as she has obviously had more to drink. When Hal repulses her and tries to get away, she holds tight, ripping his shirt. Howard tries to intervene, telling Rosemary to leave the young people alone, and Millie suddenly gets sick from drinking the whiskey. When Flo arrives on the scene and asks who gave liquor to Millie, Rosemary accuses Hal and proceeds to humiliate him in front of everyone. As Alan arrives in the midst of the commotion, Howard takes responsibility for Millie’s drinking and leads Rosemary away, and Flo sends Madge upstairs to change clothes. Alan leaves with Flo, Millie and Helen, driving one of the cars to the picnic and instructing Hal to follow soon with the other car. Hal is left alone, beaten and hurt, but after a while, Madge returns and professes feelings for him, initiating a kiss. He carries her away, but not to the picnic.

Act III - Later that evening, after midnight:
Shortly after midnight, Howard and Rosemary return. Howard attempts to go home, but Rosemary insists that he stay.  She is desperate, tired of being an “old maid.” She pleads for him to follow through on his promise to marry her, and when he protests, she throws herself at his feet and begs. Howard leaves, but he promises to return in the morning to talk it over; she tells him not to come back unless he is returning to take her away. After Rosemary goes inside, Madge and Hal return. He asks if he can see her again, but they realize they had both forgotten about Alan when she tells him she has a date with him later that night. Nevertheless, he asks if she will kiss him goodnight. She agrees, as long as he doesn’t hold her, but when they kiss, their passion is revived. Feeling guilty, Madge tears herself away from Hal and runs inside.
 
Very early, the next morning:
Millie is on the porch, dressed and ready for the first day of school, when Flo comes out looking for Madge, who is in her room with the door locked. Rosemary bursts outside, eagerly looking for Howard, but not finding him, she goes back in. Irma and Christine arrive and join Rosemary upstairs, after which Alan and Howard arrive in quick succession. Howard goes up to talk to Rosemary, while Millie runs in to tell Madge that Alan is there. Everyone comes outside, and Howard soon emerges with two suitcases. Millie throws rice, as Irma, Christine and Mrs. Potts are celebrating—Rosemary and Howard are getting married! Madge is left alone when the celebration follows the couple to their car. Unseen by the others, Hal approaches Madge and tells her he has to leave town because Alan’s father accused him of stealing their car, and he assaulted a policeman in order to escape. When Alan returns, he rushes Hal, who easily pins him down and then pushes him aside. Ignoring Flo’s orders for him to leave, Hal declares his love for Madge. When police sirens are heard in the distance, Helen Potts declares that she will take care of the police and goes off to meet them. Hal asks Madge to come with him, and as she struggles, he runs off to catch the train to Tulsa. Madge (in front of Alan) admits to Flo that she does indeed love Hal, as Millie watches him catch the train in the distance. Madge runs inside and Helen returns with Hal’s boots, which the police say they found on the river bank. When Flo begs Alan to go inside to talk to Madge, he refuses and won’t even commit to coming to see her when he is back in town over Christmas.  Alan leaves, and Flo tells Millie to head on to school, after which Madge comes out with a suitcase—she is going to Tulsa after Hal. When she leaves, Flo is left alone on stage with Helen. As Flo laments Madge’s decision, Helen encourages her to let go and reminds her that she was much like her daughter when she was her age. Helen goes inside to care for her elderly mother, leaving Flo alone as the curtain falls.

— David Holley


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