Love and family key themes in ‘Picnic’

Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo

Love is something that everyone can relate to, whether it is love for a parent, a sibling or a significant other. Love is arguably the central message of the new production by the Department of Theatre, “Picnic.”

“I think the main themes are the focus on family dynamics and the theme of love,” said Michelle Taylor, director of “Picnic” and second-year MFA directing student. “It’s about taking chances and allowing yourself to live the life you have always envisioned.”

Written by William Inge over 60 years ago, “Picnic” is set in a small town during the 1950s. Everyone is getting ready for the Labor Day picnic that marks the end of summer. It is on this day that a young man named Hal Carter makes his way into town and causes a fuss with all the women he meets. He especially affects Madge Owens, and she ends up having to choose between staying at home with her sweet and safe boyfriend, or risking it all to start her life anew with Hal wherever the train takes them.

The show does not just talk about romantic love in a young couple, but also about the love in a family. Madge’s mother Flo may have seemed overbearing, but as the show progressed, the audience saw she was only trying to make sure Madge had a better life than she did.

Hal even struggles with loving himself. While he may be attractive and able to get any girl he wants, he still is not sure if he has any real worth because he is not smart or rich like his best friend and Madge’s boyfriend, Alan Seymour.

Millie, Madge’s younger sister, struggles with finding out if she can love herself for who she wants to be or who everyone else wants her to be. Millie is a tomboy, which was unusual for girls during this time. Everyone, especially her sister, insists on her learning to be more ladylike by wearing dresses and stop playing with boys, but Millie feels uncomfortable acting the way her sister suggests.

“Picnic” also raises the question if love is only for the young. Rosemary Sydney, a school teacher renting a room from the Owens family, tries to play off that she still has time to just have fun with men before she has to settle down, but as she watches the developments between the younger characters, she becomes jealous, wishing she was still at a point in life to experience love the way they do.

“The play itself was very thought-provoking of gender roles and how much, as well as how little, they’ve changed since the setting of ‘Picnic,’” said Matt Sumpter, a junior polymer science major.

This play calls into question everything about how people deal with each other, and a lot of the themes and issues raised are still prevalent to this day. It made this writer take another look at her own relationships.

“Picnic” plays again April 3, 4 and 5 at 7:30 p.m. each day in Hartwig Theater.