In the chill and dark days of winter, a famed story set in summer shines anew. Chanticleer Theater wants to wake you to the brilliance of Pulitzer Prize-winning Picnic by William Inge. Since its debut more than 60 years ago, taking place in small town America in what may seem like a bygone period, this superb play reaches across time with developments and a depth of characters which make it alive and vital.

A community of people with conventional roles is upended by an unbridled young man with a questionable past while real, three-dimensional, very human beings try to go on living in their constrained environment.

Playwright David Rush, much inspired by Inge, says this drama shows “that society’s rules are not always the best” and that it’s possible to be happier and more fulfilled by “breaking out of restraints.”

On Labor Day weekend, a drifter, Hal Carter, arrives looking for work, also visiting his college friend Alan, who is dating local beauty Madge Owens whom Alan hopes to marry. It becomes clear that Hal and Madge are attracted to each other. A no-longer- young schoolteacher, Rosemary, becomes disturbed by the magnetism between the young people,  painfully reminding her that a long- time relationship with local businessman Howard seems to be withering on the vine.

Inge wrote about his inspiration for this play. “When I was a boy in Kansas, my mother had a boarding house,” he said. “Three women school teachers were living in the house…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.”

With his portraits of people in heartland America, Inge has become known as the “Playwright of the Midwest,” gaining equal fame and admiration for Come Back Little Sheba, Bus Stop, and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. He also won an Academy Award with his script for Splendor in the Grass.

Watching the vivid small community on stage can become a powerful and moving experience, far more intense than the movie version. This is live. This is life.

Picnic runs Jan. 8 -17 at Chanticleer Theater, 830 Franklin Avenue, Council Bluffs. Fri. Sat.: 7:30 p.m. Sun: 2 p.m. Tickets: $10-$20.

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