"Why have playwrights like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller stood the test of time, yet Inge, their contemporary, has failed to enter the modern canon in the same way?" - Todd Haimes
The Pulitzer Prize-winning William Inge play Picnic, directed by Sam Gold begins this Friday.
In the 1950s, Inge was the toast of Broadway, and no one was more pleasantly surprised by his status than the playwright himself. Inge grew up in Independence, Kansas, a quiet town nestled in America’s heartland that seemed unlikely to produce a celebrated author. Inge had a rather ordinary Midwestern life, staying in the region for college and eventually working as a drama and music critic for a newspaper in St. Louis. It was through this work that Inge found himself meeting playwright Tennessee Williams, who invited the critic to attend his new play, The Glass Menagerie. Watching that now-seminal play, Inge knew that his critical days and acceptance of his lot were over, and he immediately took up his pen to begin writing plays of his own.
He would soon write an unprecedented string of hits: Come Back, Little Sheba; Picnic; Bus Stop; and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. All were hugely successful on Broadway, and all would be made into films with some of the starriest actors of the day. I’ve often thought about what it was that made audiences latch on to Inge’s work so consistently during this fruitful period. This was a man who was truly writing what he knew, setting his plays in small towns very much like his own Independence, and writing about the kinds of people he encountered there. The plays stood out in the flashy Broadway landscape because no one else had thought these characters worthy of being put on stage before. But Inge intrinsically understood the beauty of seemingly small lives, knowing that a person who looked simple on the outside might be brimming over with the most complicated of emotions. What holds these people back isn’t the size of their dreams, but the limits of circumstance.
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2012-2013 Season, From Todd Haimes, Picnic