MONMOUTH -- Playwright William Inge was known during his career for depicting the trials and tribulations of small-town life in Middle America.
Stefanie Sertich, a guest faculty member at Western Oregon University this fall, said she has always related to the female characters in Inge's Pulitzer-prize winning "Picnic."
Not necessarily because of the environment -- the play takes place in rural Kansas, while Sertich grew up just outside Detroit, Mich.
Rather, it's the way the family at the center of the story interacts with one another and the attitude of its youngest member, Millie, she said.
"She's a misfit," Sertich said, adding with a laugh, "Theater people grow up to be misfits."
Sertich will direct a two-week run of "Picnic" this month for Western's department of theater and dance. The kickoff performance is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11, at WOU's Rice Auditorium.
Sertich is a New York City-based director and choreographer with ties to the Salem Repertory Theater. She was invited to serve as a visiting artist on campus this term and was given the opportunity to select the fall production.
"Picnic" was a clear choice as it's a staple for university programs and features age-appropriate roles for students, she said.
But more importantly, "the nature of the world is fascinating to me," she said. "It's a world these women have created in which they've shut men out of their lives ... then one comes along and that stirs the pot."
"Picnic" takes place in 1950s rural Kansas and centers on widow Flo Owens and her two daughters -- the self-centered, yet sorrowful Madge and her younger and college-bound sister Millie.
The family's normal routine is thrown into disarray when Hal, a charming drifter, moves into the house next door. His presence leads the Owenses to a number of self-revelations. Themes such as complacency, the fear of growing old and seizing the day also abound.
The student cast includes Ruth Mandsagar as Flo, Kira Batcheller as Madge and Tia Laulusa as Millie. Colton Ruscheinsky plays the role of Hal.
"Inge wrote these characters honestly, but they are all putting on a bit of a face," she said. "We wanted to see them through that layer, to know what's underneath."
Transparency is another component of the 11-person ensemble -- even in the set design.
WOU's designers have created a multilevel set that features the exterior of homes built from steel frames and a fabric called scrim, often used in professional productions. With certain lighting, the material appears solid or see-through.
Sertich said "Picnic" would appeal to audiences of just about any age.
"It's about love and that doesn't leave anybody out," she said. "Inge writes truthful relationships. That's important to me and I want the audience to identify with that."
Western Oregon University's theater and dance department present "Picnic," directed by Stefanie Sertich.
Nov. 11-13 and Nov. 17-20. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m., while a matinee production is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Nov. 13.
Rice Auditorium, Western Oregon University, 345 N. Monmouth Ave., Monmouth.
Available at the Rice Box Office or by calling 503-838-8462. Cost is $7 for students, $10 for seniors and $12 for general admission.