A Road Trip in Kansas with William Inge

lrticonThis stop on the Literary Road Trip is taking us to Independence, Kansas. Back in the 1920’s Independence was said to have more millionaires per capita than any other city in the country. That fact is important because it meant the town had many more cultural events than a normal town. Big name shows and performers stopped in Independence on their travels between Kansas City and Tulsa, Oklahoma. They were usually just for one night but it was enough to fuel the theatre dreams of our featured author: William Inge.

Wittiam Inge was born and raised in Independence and it was the setting for his play, Picnic. Although he wrote two novels, Mr. Inge is best known as a playwright. He was the dominant playwright of the 1950’s. In addition to Picnic, he wrote Come Back Little Sheba, Bus Stop and Splendor in the Grass. He received the Pulitzer for Picnic, numerous Tony awards and his plays, made into movies earned Oscars.

William Inge did not start out as a playwriter. He was first a teacher of English in high school and two colleges. And then he taught screenwriting near the end of his career. He also had a job as a drama and music critic for the Saint Louis Star-Times. This is where he got his first big break and his start as a playwriter.

IngeInge became friends with Tennessee Williams and traveled to Chicago to see his play, The Glass Menagerie. About that experience, Inge said, “I was terrifically moved by the play. I thought it was the finest (play) I had seen in many years. I went back to St. Louis and felt, ‘Well, I’ve got to write a play.'”

As part of this Literary Road Trip I decided to read one of William Inge’s plays. At the library they had a nice selection of his plays. I chose to read Picnic. I don’t think I’ve read a play since high school or college. At first it was odd because I wanted to read every word just like a novel. After a few pages I got into the rhythm of reading just the dialogue and I stopped occasionally for the background information. It was fun and very easy to get caught up in the fast movement of the play. I’m definitely going to “do plays” again.

The stage setting for Picnic is the back of two modest houses in a small Kansas town. One house belongs to a widow, Flora Owens and her two teenage daughters, Madge and Millie. The second house is the home of another widow, Helen Potts and her invalid mother. There are a few other cast members: Rosemary, a middle-aged school teacher who rooms with Flora Owens, and her school teacher friends and Howard, her boyfriend. There is also Alan, who Flora is pushing Madge to marry, and Hal, a new young man in town. There is immediate attraction between Hal and Madge.

The entire play takes place over the course of a day and it all happens in the back yard. In my viewpoint the play was all about women, their emotions, aspirations and what life was like for women in the late 1940’s and 50’s. From a 2009 perspective, it was quite interesting. William Inge based this play on memories from his childhood.

“When I was a boy in Kansas, my mother had a boarding house. There were three women school teachers living in the house. I was four years old, and they were nice to me. I liked them. I saw their attempts, and, even as a child, I sensed every woman’s failure. I began to sense the sorrow and the emptiness in their lives, and it touched me.”
The story touched me too and obviously many other people as it won numerous awards and was later turned into a movie. I have a video clip from one of the famous scenes from both the play and the movie.

To read about other Literary Road Trips or to join in with your own local area visit HERE.

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6 Responses to A Road Trip in Kansas with William Inge

  1. I don’t think I have read a play since high school either. It does sound good.

  2. I have never read him, but I’ve seen every movie made out of his books, and loved all of them! Well, in a pain-filled sort of way. In fact, I tried to watch Splendor in the Grass again not too long ago and I couldn’t! Too painful!! And Bus Stop, how poignant and sad. I don’t have the emotional endurance I used to have!

  3. Beth F says:

    Thanks so much for sharing the clip! I think the last of his plays I read (not watched) was Bus Stop; but it’s been close to 10 years now.

  4. Kathy says:

    I haven’t read a play in years either, and don’t think I’ve ever read any of Inge’s, but you’ve got me curious now.

  5. Staci says:

    I haven’t read a play since I was in drama in high school but this one sounds delightful!!!

  6. stacybuckeye says:

    I’m going to have to check this movie out of the library. Love old movie and William Holden.
    Thanks for my trip to Kansas 🙂

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