Three Plays: Picnic, The Member of the Wedding and Private Lives

I’m rereading some old plays that I used to like.
You have probably read them, too, but you might get as much
pleasure as I did rereading them.

### The first, Picnic by William Inge, was written in 1953 and was
winner of the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in that same
year.

It was produced at the Music Box Theatre in New York on
February 19, 1953.  Ralph Meeker played Hal Carter, Janice Rule
was Madge and Paul Newman was Alan Seymour.  But if you’re
like me, it’s pretty hard to get past remembering the movie version
with William Holden and Kim Novak.

The setting is a back yard showing two houses in a small Kansas
town.  The neighbors are two widows—one trying to raise two daughters.
A “tramp” comes to the area to see if he can earn a little money.

It’s the end of summer.  They are all preparing for a community
picnic.  The weather is sultry and so’s the play, with
scattered witty moments.

The dialogue flies and reading doesn’t get much better than this.

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### The second play is The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers.
First she wrote the novel in 1946 and then this play in 1949.  It was first
produced in New York at the Empire Theater on January 5, 1950.  It
starred Ethel Waters as Berenice Sadie Brown, Julie Harris as Frankie
Adams and Brandon de Wilde as seven year old John Henry West.

Once again, the setting is a back yard—this time in a southern town.

Frankie Adams’ big brother is going to be married and she is having
serious qualms about being left behind.  She is a teen-aged girl with
thoughts and dreams beyond her years—endearing and soul wrenching.

The dialogue among Frankie and Berenice and John Henry is simply
delightful–did you hear me laughing out loud?  Berenice has added
interest in John Henry’s mind because she has a glass eye.  John Henry
can’t believe that Frankie gave him the doll her brother sent her from
his army post in Alaska.  And Frankie keeps us hanging on her every
word as she tries to figure out what life is all about.  I’d add this play to my
desert island stash in a minute.

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### The third play is Private Lives by Noel Coward.  It was written
in 1930 and produced by the author at The Phoenix Theatre, London
September 8, 1930.  Original British cast:

Sybil Chase                                                Adrianne Allen
Elyot Chase                                                Noel Coward
Victor Prynne                                            Laurence Olivier
Amanda Prynne                                        Gertrude Lawrence
Louise                                                          Everley Gregg

The setting is a hotel in France and a couple is there on the
first night of their honeymoon.  Lo! and behold!—in the
suite next door—-which shares a terrace—is another
couple on *their* first night of their honeymoon.

Need I tell you that the husband of one, Elyot Chase, and the
wife of the other, Amanda Prynne, were once married and then
divorced?   Well, it’s true and I’m sorry to tell you that when
they find out they are “together again” problems of all sorts
arise———and the lines are witty, witty, witty.

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You will find these three plays on all kinds of good reading lists—
for the “college bound”—-for the “aspiring theater student”—“best
plays on this century” and so forth.  Never mind those—just read
them for the fun of it.

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2 Responses to Three Plays: Picnic, The Member of the Wedding and Private Lives

  1. jeanette says:

    Haven’t read a play since college; however, after reading your reviews will put them on my list to read.

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