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Saturday, 18 March 2006


Mustang Bobby

My last theatre teaching job was at a private school. When I was hired I was told that the spring musical would be Grease. Fine with me, I thought, and to complete the year's visit to the 1950's, I decided to do Picnic by William Inge since a lot of the same types of characters are in the two shows: the Goody-Two-Shoes prom queen, the roguish outsider, the angst-ridden adolescents, and the spinster school teachers. When I got to final dress and the assistant headmaster saw that there was smoking and drinking and kissing in the play, I was told to remove it. I refused, saying A) it would violate the licensing agreement that specifically prohibits alterations to the script, and B) it would ruin the play; the entire second and third act rely on the smoking and drinking and kissing. So I had to put a "warning" in the program, and I still got a stiff talking-to after the show (which, by the way, was a huge hit) from the head of the school who labeled himself as a "good Christian conservative." But when we did Grease five months later, the smoking, drinking, and pregnancy scare were perfectly acceptable because "it's an old favorite and everybody loves Grease." I got dizzy from the hypocrisy, and frankly, I was relieved when my contract was not renewed.

By the way, if you know Inge and Picnic, there's a whole subtext of Brokeback Mountain in the relationship between Alan, the rich college boy, and Hal, his well-muscled ne'er-do-well frat brother. Needless to say I did not explore that with my 17-year-old actors.


I'm not familiar with Inge or with Picnic, alas. My drama knowledge is more oriented toward the classics. (I wrote my Colorado M.A. thesis on "The Role of the Chorus in the Eumenides of Aeschylus." I argued they should be considered the play's "tragic hero," since they're the only ones to undergo the classic Aristotelian περιπετεία.)

Mustang Bobby

You ought to catch up with Inge. He wrote four plays that basically represent his best work: Come Back, Little Sheba; Picnic, Bus Stop, and Dark at the Top of the Stairs. Aside from pretty good characters and drama, Inge also created an archetype character of the well-built young man as the object of attention and affection who is a catalyst for the drama. I did a paper for a playwriting conference called Boots, Jeans, T-Shirts, and Biceps: William Inge's Ideal Male. It was a fun topic to research, trust me. And presenting it in front of an audience in rural Kansas was also, uh, interesting.


Sounds a little bit like Clifford Odets. Was Inge also a member of the (closeted) tribe?

Mustang Bobby

In a word, yes, and never came to terms with it. Someday I'll have to tell you the whole story about growing up in a little town in Kansas where social mores and religious oppression made his life miserable.


I read the Bible when I was a kid. Fucked me up but good.


My youthful reading list gives great insight into my personality. I read a bunch of stuff back in the day, but my chief memory is a lot of Mad magazines.

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