Review: Picnic

Picnic

When I think of playwright William Inge I think of two things. I think of his hero worship of Tennessee Williams – I share it, but think that in some ways it limited Inge as a playwright. And I think of the gay Inge’s propensity for including well-built young men wearing as little as possible in his plays. And for that, Bill Inge, I am truly thankful.

Actually, Inge’s hero worship of Williams does have a definite benefit. Inge was entranced with Williams’s big naturalistic successes. Inge, in the final analysis, was probably more temperamentally suited to naturalism than Williams. Williams was always itching to experiment more than was expected of him – Inge was really the playwright the public thought they had in Williams.

Inge digs much more into the details of mundane everyday lives, into both harrowing quiet desperation and hope born of dogged, stubborn determination. Williams has the ferocity of the best jazz in his writing, while there’s something very country and western about Inge. And not entirely in bad way either.

Picnic takes place on a balmy Labor Day in early 1950s Kansas, where two neighboring households of women prepare for a picnic. When a handsome young drifter named Hal – cue the shirtless Inge hunk to end all shirtless Inge hunks (the appropriately stunning Sebastian Stan) – arrives, his physique and animal charisma have a life-changing impact on nearly everybody he comes in contact with.

Director Sam Gold’s revival catches the tone of Inge’s rueful comic melancholy exactly right, never quite going all the way to sentimental corniness (a definite danger with Inge). A superb ensemble cast brings home Inge’s coded queer messages about love, difference, tolerance and defiance with ringing clarity. Good stuff.

For tickets, click here.

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