Boyfriend, Sister and Mom: Meet Three of Broadway's Picnickers

By Harry Haun
30 Jan 2013

Mare Winningham and Maggie Grace in Picnic.
Photo by Joan Marcus

It's rather apt that Millie's mom should be played by Mare Winningham, the most nurturing member of The Brat Pack that swaggered into public consciousness via 1985's "St. Elmo's Fire." After a near-hundred roles in feature films and TV shows, Winningham has started inching into a long-overdue stage career — first Off-Broadway (most memorably as the mother of Tribes) and now, finally, on Broadway.

Throughout the play, her Flo Owens seems like the chronic spoiler on the premises, a vigilant mother-hen on perpetual patrol to protect her daughters and maneuver them into proper, prosperous directions. "A pretty girl doesn't have long," she tells Madge, trying to angle her down the aisle to Alan while youth is still on her side.

"It's such a constraining line, yet it's said with deep love," Winningham points out. "In learning about Flo, I kept coming to the great abyss of 'Wow! This character is quite tragic and touching and funny and deep, really.' Like all of the characters in this play, she puts forth a deceptively simple surface, and then boom! — you plunge down into their pain and their hopes and their shattered dreams and desires."

What motivates Flo's one-note negativity finally comes down to a sad, single line of dialogue in the closing moments of the play. She's just trying to negotiate her girls around the perils and pitfalls out there. "When she thinks she's losing Madge, she gives voice to that very thought — very late in the game — and it's heartbreaking."

The voice of experience bleeds and pleads into the voice of reason, but is it enough to stop a headstrong, romantic young girl from pursuing her dream of true love?