Last week, The Wife and I spent some time in her home town, La Grande, Oregon. It's a really beautiful place, one we've talked about moving to from time to time. In fact, it reminds me a lot of where I grew up, Meridian, Idaho. It's a farm community in a valley. It's somewhat isolated, and it's somewhat intolerant, unfortunately.
A friend of ours, Kevin Cahill has taught at La Grande High School for a number of years, and he also directs student productions there. This year he was attempting to stage Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile. I say attempting because a few weeks into rehearsal, a parent got hold of a copy of the play, a play that had been approved by the school's principal, I hasten to add, and she found it objectionable. Long story short, she got a lot of her like-minded fellow citizens to sign a petition and presented it to the school superintendent, who then ordered the play shut down. Kevin appealed this decision to the La Grande school board but lost that appeal. He and the students have since been offered a space at the local university to perform the play (though the university president did at first bow to pressure from conservative community members), but the fact that they have to go off-campus at all is astounding.
I attended the school board meeting where the matter was discussed and I was, frankly, taken aback by some of the comments I heard. Many community members admitted to not having read the play, but they felt they knew enough about based on what they'd heard about it. Kevin's argument that the play had been staged by other high schools, including West Linn HS which is also in Oregon, and that the play had won some of those high school drama competitions, was met with disdain. "This may be an award-winning play in other communities," one speaker said, "but things are different here in La Grande." They certainly are.
The story is being picked up by sources outside of La Grande, something I'm sure the school board hoped would never happen. The AP has run a story about the banning (and they supply papers nation-wide with their coverage). Here's the AP story which ran in my local paper, The Statesman Journal. and The National Coalition Against Censorship has commented on it on their blog.
Kevin has done a wonderful job of documenting what the experience and I'd encourage you to go to his blog and read it. Parts one, two, three, and four.
I wish Kevin the best in this and I can't express how sorry I am that it's come up at all, but I'm confident that the play will go on. And when It does, I'll be there opening night.