Neal Hemphill

Neal Hemphill is an actor, filmmaker, and photographer.

As an actor, Neal has worked in 31 states and 3 foreign countries, performing everything from off-off-Broadway solo shows to feature films to major touring productions.  He's always had a camera with him, and has taken photos everywhere he's gone.  This lifelong interest in performing and looking through a lens has led to third passion - filmmaking.  

Neal's passion for storytelling is now being expressed through screenwriting, directing, producing, and acting, as well as photography.  The common threads are heart, humanism, and love of life. 

 

"Picnic" on Broadway

I saw "Picnic" on Broadway last month, which is a play that I'd never seen - either on stage or film - nor read.

I'd never been particularly interested in it, although I love American plays from the mid-20th century.  I think it's the title.  "Picnic" just sounded dopey.  Too All-American, too hokey.

A friend of mine really wanted to see it, so we went.  I'm so glad we did.  I loved it.

It's not hokey - at all.  It's surprisingly frank, and progressive, actually.  And it's a play that painted a picture on my heart...an American picture, of love, of going, of confusion, of drives, as well as both the comfort and stifling quality of small-town life.  There's alway a freight train to jump if need be, but there's also always the family, for good and for bad, right here.

The newcomer, Sebastian Stan, was tremendous as Hal Carter.  He's a ridiculously good-looking guy, and he spends much of the play shirtless.  OK, great - the sex appeal that is necessary for the character, and the way it upends the community - was definitely in place.  What was surprising, and thrilling, was the present, honest, flowing, moment-to-moment performance that Stan delivered.  He appeared to have the best quality of relaxation on stage - no pushing of anything, and ready to respond to everything that comes along.  Probably the strongest part of the character for me was the "little-boy-lost" quality that was pervasive, even in the scenes that call for bravado.  That was done very skillfully.  The gaping hole inside of the character was huge.  His confidence was real, but couldn't fill the hole.  His need and longing for connection, for love, and I believe mostly for acceptance, was too powerful, and overran all of his strengths.

Maggie Grace, as the young woman Madge Owens, was a graceful and beautiful presence on stage. Her quest, to understand the purpose and significance of her beauty, was so sadly realized.  When she leaves home, and her mother, it's heartbreaking.  We know she's setting off on another generation of struggles and woes, just as her mother suffered.  And it's a gut-wrenching goodbye.  Also, Maggie Grace was able to express both a gawky beauty that moves ever-so-quickly to a more mature, womanly aspect.

Ellen Burstyn - poignant.  Mare Winningham - broke my heart.

Reed Birney and Elizabeth Marvel were amazing.  She really went to some deep places.  He got pulled along, and I felt for him.  I'm glad they went off to get married.  I think it'll be good for both of them.

Sam Gold's direction was terrific.  I loved the scenes that took place entirely indoors - inside the house, on the other side of the yard from us.  The action inside was clear, even though much of the movement was blocked by the walls of the house, as we could only see in through the windows and doors.  He cast it well, staged it well, and brought it to life.

One last note.  My friend and I had a conversation about subtext at the intermission.  I don't believe there was a lot of subtext in the play, nor was there a meaning beyond what we saw.  But what we saw and heard was more than enough to fill me, and keep me filled as I think about it again over a month later.