Although the drama "Picnic" was set in Kansas in the mid-1950s, its themes of age, gender and wealth are timeless, according to the director of the production that will open tonight in the Dorothy Hackett Ward Theatre at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Fine Arts Center.
"The issues, the struggles are universal and still with us," said University of Chattanooga Foundation professor of theater and speech Mac Smotherman. "It's very much a play that speaks to audiences today."
William Inge's Pulitzer Prize-winning play takes place within a female-dominated group of people in small-town Kansas where everyone knows everybody. When a handsome drifter is introduced into the normal goings-on, the female-dominated group - and the town itself - are affected.
"It's a world absent of men," Smotherman said of the mother, two daughters and schoolteachers group into which Hal is introduced. "He disrupts this world absent of testosterone."
Hal, who has a bit of a troubled past and has yet to quite find himself, nevertheless provides a masculine presence and has a personality that attracts others. One of those others is Madge, who is being groomed to marry well-groomed, college-boy Alan, an old friend of Hal's.
The play portrays "a struggle against the cultural [and] the social norms," Smotherman said. "There's something of teenage alienation going on."
By today's standards, he said, "it isn't as if [Hal and Madge] were doing something sinful [or] horrible. It's fairly tame. For this society, it was breaking the rules." As in many plays, he said, "it shows people breaking free of the rules we impose upon ourselves."
At play in "Picnic," Smotherman said, are the conflicts of young versus old, female versus male, wealth versus a lack of wealth, and beauty versus intelligence.
"It's what life is all about," he said.
"Picnic" opened on Broadway in February 1953 and was adapted into film in 1955.