Picnic: The Show Must Go On

By Sue Pascoe

Theatre Palisades is a community theater where everyone volunteers, from directors and actors to set de- signers and those in the ticket booth. Pierson Playhouse, where now-famous actress Amy Adams performed in one of her first L.A. plays, is grounded in community, with one overriding love in common—theater.

For some TP board members, like Sherman Wayne, the Pierson is a second home. He drives every day from Torrance to Pacific Palisades and spends countless hours designing and building sets, while directing various productions.

Jessica Mason (Millie) and Nick Dostal (Hal) in a scene from Picnic. Photo: Rich Little
Jessica Mason (Millie) and Nick Dostal (Hal) in a scene from Picnic.
Photo: Rich Little

For years, Wayne had wanted to direct William Inge’s Picnic. When the theater couldn’t obtain the rights for On Golden Pond for the 2016 season, the board agreed to a production of Picnic, directed by Wayne.

Long-time TP board member Martha Hunter, who agreed to produce Picnic, told the Palisades News: “Unfortunately, Sherman had to have spinal surgery in August and the TP board decided to switch The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife with Picnic in order to give Sherman time to recover.”

By early November, Wayne was back and had finished casting (Hunter was cast as Mrs. Potts).

But between the first rehearsals, which took place before Thanksgiving, and opening night on Jan. 13, Picnic was almost “rained out.”

In early December, Wayne was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery for a subdural hematoma. “His chances of re- covery were quite grim initially,” Hunter said. Wayne was put in an induced coma and slowly he recuperated and then was put in rehab.

Hunter became the director, giving up her acting role. “Luckily, Laura Goldstein, who had been cast as one of the schoolteachers, stepped easily into the role,” Hunter said. “Laura and Tamara Ashton, the other schoolteacher, brought in their friend Nancy Woods for the role of Irma at the last minute.”

Tony Torrisi, a Theatre Palisades member and a friend of Wayne’s, came in to consult. Drew Fitzsimmons (from Don’t Dress for Dinner) choreographed the dance and fight scenes.

For years, almost every set for every play at Theatre Palisades has been built by Wayne. In this case, William Pitcher, who lives in Brentwood and whose son attends Palisades High School, built it.

Pitcher came to the Pierson about a year ago, because he saw Wayne working on the back lot and offered to help.

The artist was always happy to be the “understudy” to Sherman, but in January he was thrust into the forefront. The Picnic set is complicated with two houses, one of them a two-story. But Pitcher, who is called a “true gift” by the cast and TP board, built Sherman’s design—and the set is a lovely ode to Kansas in the 1950s.

“During this time, Sherman was recovering in the ICU at St. John’s, with daily visits from his son and me updating him on the rehearsals and the progress,” said Hunter. She noted that Nancy Fracchiolla, the drama teacher at Palisades High and a good friend of Theatre Palisades, recommended freshman Marcus Maia, who happily took on his first big role as “Bomber Gutzel” only two weeks before the show opened.

Wayne was able to attend the opening night performance, but then was diagnosed with a staph infection and re-admitted to St. John’s for three days.

“He is now on at the mend, slowly but surely,” Hunter said. “He is currently designing the set for our next production, Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, opening at the end of March.”

“When I see the finished product up there on our stage, I think of all the people who came together to make certain that indeed, ‘The show must go on!’” Hunter said.

Picnic opened to positive reviews in the Palisades News and the Palisadian-Post. The play closes this weekend (Friday and Saturday night and a Sunday matinee), but tickets are still available. Call (310) 415-1970 or visit theatrepalisades.org.

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