Book and Author
Picnic: WINNER OF THE 1953 PULITZER PRIZE
The play takes place on Labor Day weekend in the joint backyards of two middle-aged widows. One house belongs to Flo Owens, who lives there with her two awakening young daughters, Madge and Millie, and a boarder who is a spinster school teacher. The other house belongs to Helen Potts, who lives with her elderly and invalid mother. Into this atmosphere comes a young man named Hal Carter, whose animal vitality upsets the entire group. Hal is a most-interesting character a child of parents who ignored him, self-concious of his failings and his hard luck. Flo is sensitively wary of the temptations Hal poses for her daughters. But Madge, bored with being merely a beauty, sacrifices her chances for a wealthy marriage for the excitement that Hal promises.
Published 1953, 78 pages. Description from book jacket.
William Inge: Inge’s fascination for the theatre began early. In the 1920’s Independence had many cultural events as top artists and shows stopped over for one night stands between performances in Kansas City, Missouri, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Although Inge was not from a well-to-do family, he did get to see many shows as a member of a local Boy Scout Troop. The troop met in the Civic Center, a ground floor meeting room of Memorial Hall, a large 2,000 seat theater where these shows were held. The scouts were regularly invited to sit in the balcony after their meetings to watch the performances.
The small town of Independence had a profound influence on the young Inge and he would later attribute his understanding of human behavior to growing up in this small town environment. “I’ve often wondered how people raised in our great cities ever develop any knowledge of humankind. People who grow up in small towns get to know each other so much more closely than they do in cities,” said Inge. Inge would later use this knowledge of small town life in many of his plays, most of which revolve around characters who are clearly products of small towns like Independence.
Published on Dec 15, 2011
Discussion Questions for Picnic
- Why do you think William Inge chose to have the stage set be the porches and yards of two small houses?
- Think about Flo Owens, Helen Potts and Rosemary Sydney. What are their lives like, do they have dreams? How has loneliness affected their choices?
- Is this play relevant today, or is it dated? Why?
- Serve Mrs. Potts’s Lady Baltimore cake. Here is the history of the cake from The Old Foodie. Here is a recipe from Taste of Home.
- Watch the 1955 movie version of Picnic starring William Holden and Kim Novac. Discuss the director’s casting choices and other changes to the play.
Movie trailer for Picnic (1955) posted on YouTube by Craig Steves.