Picnic Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: Drama)

William Inge

Critical Context (Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

Picnic was Inge’s second consecutive successful Broadway play, following on the heels of his debut work, Come Back, Little Sheba (pr., pb. 1950). Picnic, like each play in the quartet of Inge’s well-received Broadway productions of the 1950’s—also including Bus Stop (pr., pb. 1955) and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (pr., pb. 1957)—is quintessentially a play about midwestern life—about its everydayness, its sense of sameness, directionlessness, and about the tension between men and women, loners all, who face their lives with a combination of resignation, despair, and lonely isolation. Robert Baird Shuman, speaking of this run of successes, suggested that “critics could do little but marvel at the success of a man who wrote modest plays about the most prosaic of people, but who had never experienced a box office failure.”

That string of successes, however, ended at the close of the 1950’s, as a series of Inge’s plays, beginning with A Loss of Roses (pr. 1959, pb. 1960), was savaged by critics who found Inge not as effective a playwright when he left behind consideration of the midwestern malaise he knew so well. After the production of The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, it was only in his screenplay for the motion picture Splendor in the Grass (1961), an Academy Award winner for original screenplay, that Inge achieved critical success. In Picnic,...

(The entire section is 484 words.)