STAGE REVIEW : Passion Is No 'Picnic' in Cypress : The romantic aspects of the Civic Theatre Guild production are undone by the actress in the pivotal role of Madge, who seems chaste and complacent.

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"Picnic," William Inge's classic play, pits the security of middle-class values against the deeper appetites of the body and soul. It has a good deal more in it than the words "romantic comedy" convey, but there are fewer laughs and less lust than even that billing would promise in the current production by the Cypress Civic Theatre Guild.

There are, however, some fiery performances in this exceptionally good-looking production.

Set on a stifling Labor Day weekend, the story introduces hotblooded, down-and-out drifter Hal to a small Kansas town where he meets Madge, the beautiful, thrill-starved girlfriend of his old college pal, Alan. Madge lives at home in a neighborhood of women, and the neighborhood is never the same after Hal struts into it.

As Hal, Leo Thomas has every inch of the requisite melting good looks as well as the animal magnetism and hungry bravado needed to fuel the play's events. David Frederick Fogg, as aristocratic Alan, is very sympathetic and attractive in a role that could be played as a wet blanket. He is a compelling argument for the road more taken.

The romantic aspects of the production are undone, though, by Danielle Brown in the pivotal role of Madge. Brown certainly is lovely, but her Madge is chaste and complacent. Her passionate kiss has all the fire of a missionary's thank-you.

Director Steve Wilbur has put together such a handsome production that it's a shame the heart of the play is empty. The setting of stained, yellow clapboard houses surrounded by picket fences is trimmed with such evocative details as a hand water pump in the yard and antique-looking light fixtures. The costumes are exceptionally realized, down to the hats and purses. (The only visual jolt was the Nordstrom logo on a paper book jacket.)

The supporting performances are honorable. Marcia Bonnitz gets up some steam as the spinster schoolteacher Rosemary, and John Rappazzini, as her "friend-boy" Howard, is loose-limbed and likable. Nancy Stewert Douglas delivers a sharp cameo as Irma.

Still, the overall temperature of the production idles low, not only because of director Wilbur's disastrous casting error but also his pervasively sentimental pitch on the material. These are hungry people, looking for love. In Wilbur's production, they need to be hungrier.

'Picnic'

A Cypress Civic Theatre Guild production of the play by William Inge. Directed by Steve Wilbur. Assistant director: Sara St. James. Producer: Craig Harreld. Set design and construction: Backdrop Design Co. (Phil Lubman, Dave Lewis and Bob Bruner). Costumes: Kate Valentine, Paul Bruce and Holly Cummings. Lighting design: Craig Harreld. With Rita R. Strong, Leo Thomas, Laura Brooks Burdick, Roger Shank, Danielle Brown, Linn Ellis, Marcia Bonnitz, David Frederick Fogg, Nancy Stewert Douglas, Norma Evans, and John Rappazzini. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. at the Cypress Cultural Arts Center, 5172 Orange Ave., Cypress, through Sept 28. Tickets: $8 general admission, $7 for students and seniors. Box office: (714) 229-6796.

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