Blaring polka music from the open window; lights shining down on the people ready to dance in the street outside the theatre; extended laughing and camaraderie: South Camden Theatre Company (SCTC) uses many aspects of the neighborhood to spotlight its good works. SCTC is at it again with INDOOR PICNIC. Author Joseph M. Paprzycki used others’ memories and stories, iconic references, and his own fertile imagination to write an original play about Camdem in the 1960s through 1980s—a time that was comfortable and accommodating but when racial bigotry hung over the hardworking men of the time. Commendations to Paprzycki for bringing this Camden story to local audiences, allowing them to judge its effectiveness and authenticity.
Ubiquitous beer bottles, proudly worn Polish T-shirts, and rough speech introduce four proud Poles: Caz (Edward Monterosso), Stash (Dan Hickey), Benny (Jumbo Schimpf) and Felix (Eric J. Pedersen).The play juxtaposes the story of the Polish Club with the black American Camden story, thanks to the excellent work of actor Zuhairah as Flossie, the Club’s African American cleaning lady. Flossie’s interactions with the Club members were intelligent and emotionally charged. The monologues provided to her by Paprzycki are beautifully written expressions of loss while Croce’s soft directorial touch gave Zuhairah and the audience time to move through their steps of grief. The relationship arc between Flossie and racist club member Stash, while stereotypical in Act I, develops in Act II to show how easily words of hate can be replaced by words of appreciation when situations are reversed. Hickey’s technically delivered performance as Stash is reminiscent of people we might have known while growing up and grows into a nuanced recognition of past hurts.
Throughout INDOOR PICNIC death announcements are used to show passage of time. While relevant to the production and very useful dramatic “props”, they were done in such an understated way that they lost some of their punch. After the first scene, whenever Caz—played at a consistent emotional level by Monterosso—walks onstage with his jacket on, the audience should say to themselves, “Oh no, who did the Club lose this time? “ A few changes in costuming and/or lighting might have enabled the audience to connect to those times of grief more viscerally.
An original script being produced for the first time is always rife with “what ifs?” and “should haves”. INDOOR PICNIC is no exception. Set changes were smooth but still long. SCTC could look to uniting spaces, especially those with chairs, to shorten setup time. Use of background glass/service noises when the Club is flourishing in the 1960s and its subsequent lesser use would help spotlight the Club’s decline in later decades. While the intermission slide show of historical Camden places and events provided a clear description of <insert name of mid-20th century industrial city of your choice> and a roadmap of what the men should be wearing, there seemed to be an absence of rolled up shirt sleeves and suspenders.
INDOOR PICNIC is a story of long enjoyed pleasures which go the way of all things in life and how a group of people manage their lives against these losses. It is a charming and uplifting tribute and testimonial to a time and its people gone by.
By Joseph M. Paprzycki
Directed by Ray Croce, Sr.
October 26 – November 11, 2012
South Camden Theatre Company
Waterfront South Theatre
400 Jasper Street
Camden, NJ 08104