There’s a twist to “Picnic,” William Inge’s drama of class, sex and attraction set in the 1950’s. Allen is Madge’s fiancé, and Hal has turned up out of thin air, needing his help. Madge is a young lady from a respectable family, but she shares the same predicament as Hal, Allen’s old fraternity brother. While Hal is working class, and Madge from the privileged middle, both have been coasting on their extraordinary physical beauty. Society tends to place exceptionally attractive individuals in a different realm. Everyone wants to be friends with them. The downside is the assumption that they have nothing much to offer. Which is perhaps why Madge and Hal are drawn to each other. To everyone else they are an abstraction, they are ethereal. They also provoke resentment through no fault of their own.
Hal arrives in a small Midwestern town the night before a big picnic, marking the end of Summer and the start of school. . Mrs. Potts gives him a room and food in exchange for chores. He works without his shirt on, and the women are swooning. Hal is gorgeous, no doubt, his presence seems to send shockwaves. Madge lives with her mother, Flo, and sister Millie. They rent their extra room to old maid school teacher, Rosemary. The school teachers meet regularly for bridge, Millie has earned a scholarship, and Flo wants to make sure Madge doesn’t blow her chances to marry Allen.
Inge takes a simple premise like a seasonal picnic and sneaks Hal in as if he were Dionysus, intensifying pulses and stirring up trouble. Of course, Hal isn’t interested in making trouble, he’s a kind-hearted guy who’s just going with his strengths. But his presence brings out a wild, ugly streak in some of the folks, eliciting regrets and neglected passions. Inge raises all kinds of issues, how little we appreciate women for their minds, the lionization and bestiality of males, the enormous discrepancy between our perception and of the genders and who we truly are. Allen is very handsome and treats Madge deferentially, but she is drawn to Hal, who is awkward in everything but sex. Rosemary sees Hal and feels aroused and regret for a wasted youth.
Inge doesn’t leave much in the middle. A woman can either connect with a virile, earthy, “bad boy” who knows how to bring on those special chills, or a lofty guy who wouldn’t dream of defiling her. In American culture we embrace the whore/Madonna contradiction, the ridiculous split that oversimplifies the world and leaves no room for us to simply be happy, warm, sentient mammals.
Directed by Bruce Coleman, this splendid, dedicated, exceptionally gifted cast has risen to the challenges of this demanding script with professionalism and éclat. There is a haunting, pervasive melancholy to this production that only comes from theatre of the best sort.
Theatre 3 presents Picnic, playing : October 29th- November 22nd, 2015. 2800 Routh Street, Suite 168, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214-871-3300. www.theatre3dallas.com.abstraction, they are ethereal. They also provoke resentment through no fault of their own.