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~Friday~ Last weekend, when I had dinner with my friends Jeff and Ed before seeing American Utopias with them, Jeff was telling me about a play that, as the Professor of the Practice of Theater Studies at Duke University, he is having his senior students explore for their capstone course.

The play is called Picnic, a 1953 play by William Inge, with a 1955 film adaptation starring William Holden, and Jeff is having his students explore the question as to whether the play would still "work" with a more diverse cast, including potentially, a non-white person as the protagonist. And while discussing it that night, he said, "If you've never seen the movie, it's worth renting."

I shared that with my friend, Bob, and he Netflixed it, and we watched it tonight. Thanks, Bob!

The Original 1955 Trailer

Emotions are ignited amongst the complacent townsfolk when a handsome drifter arrives in a small Kansas community on the morning of the Labor Day picnic.

It's an interesting question that Jeff poses, and I'm sort of ambivalent about it, as it brings up so many factors for consideration:

  • If conflict is what makes fiction compelling, would the mere introduction of race and ethnicity in some characters increase the "universal" conflict already explored in the play—a drifter upsetting a small town; a single-parent mom trying to get her daughter married off "well," so they can both move into the town's highest social circles; and sibling rivalry)—making it any more (or less) interesting a story?

  • Would a non-white protagonist "work" as the only introduction of diversity into the cast, and/or would other diverse characters be needed to be "believable?"

  • Speaking of believeability, could an audience overlook a diverse cast when they know that it probably wouldn't have been true to the setting of the story, given its time and place in our history?

  • Does the protagonist have to be attractive, or merely charismatic?

  • Charisma and attraction are so subjective, with trying to characterize attraction making me think of my friend Casey Peel's recent blog posting called, Sexism, Racism, and Physical Attraction, which Casey, ironically, posted on the same night I watched the movie.

All that to think about aside, I enjoyed the movie, and I look forward to watching Bus Stop next, which during that same conversation last week, Jeff also recommended I watch.

I'll close with a pointer to some interesting trivia about Picnic, one of which is that William Holden was made to shave his chest hair for this film, in order to make him look younger than the 37 years he was at the time.




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