As the author of Picnic. William Inge is an accomplished technician. He is quite capable of compressing paragraphs and pages of conversation into concise sentences, so that his characters speak, breathe, sweat, and scratch like normal human beings. Picnic is a very successful exercise in reality.
Set in a small mid-western town, it is a smooth, logical delineation of characters, who are frustrated, moved by sexual passions, by social desires for security. Joshua Logan's interpretation in no way detracts from the minute reproduction Inge has created. Neither does the single set, designed by Jo Mielziner.
Picnic's drama is in the conflict of a beautiful young girl, who must choose between a stable, uninteresting, but rich young man or a poor, confused, dynamic intruder. In a skillful first act, Inge makes it clear that his resolution in the second act is an inevitability. The third ties up the consequences. Except for occasional dramatic irony dealing with a few frustrated school teachers, the action is tense and expectant, moving, as one reviewer has already commented, "from climax to climax."
Ralph Meeker, Paul Newman, Peggy Conklin, Eileen Heckart all seem like real people. Janice Rule as the young lady is indeed both beautiful and confused. Only Kim Stanley, as her younger sister, is a bit unbelievable--she is too often too bold in telegraphing her moods.
Picnic is a good play to see. It is both well-written and well-executed. There is nothing in it, however, that will lift one out of the commonplace rut and place him in another frame of existence. Neither are there characters on the stage who would exist only in an author's well-constructed, never-existent world. To do this, Mr. Inge would have to be an artist. Instead, he is a talented censor, able to sort and to rearrange the various trivia of living, conversation and action, combining a significant grouping of these, to create an excellent reproduction.
As a result, one may know little more about either himself or anybody else after seeing Picnic. He will only, perhaps, visualize more clearly some of the things he has already lived through or read about.
But reality, in itself, should be merely a tool of drama, just as the playwright, if he is an artist, must also be a good technician. The technician like Mr. Inge, who use his talent to entertain, shock, or emotionally mangle his audience, leaving it nothing more than a momentary dramatic experience, is indulging in literary exercise--little more. Mr. Inge clearly has the tools; now, he needs a new idea.