This past weekend, the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School in Northampton, Massachusetts, presented the play “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told.” The school, also known as PVPA, describes itself as “a regional public charter school” whose purpose is to “connect the creative process with critical thinking to inspire a love of learning.”
OK. Along with the usual academics of math and English and such, students have opportunity to spend much time doing something they love – the performing arts. It’s not unusual for such schools to have presentations that allow students this kind of opportunity.
What is unusual, though, is the story of the play itself. The plot of “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” is summarized on the PVPA website thusly:
What if Adam’s partner in the Garden of Eden wasn’t Eve, but … Steve? In The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, two First Couples—not only Adam and Steve but also Jane and Mabel—experience life’s joys and perils from the biblical world to the modern day. This satirical comedy by Paul Rudnick (author of I Hate Hamlet and Jeffrey) is cheeky, raucously funny, surprisingly tender and ultimately wise as it dissects history, relationships, gay politics and the mystery of faith. A cast of ten will perform the two couples and other roles, including the Pharaoh, a paraplegic lesbian rabbi and a Stage Manager who is, after all, God.
As you may imagine, some people aren’t happy with this, specifically Christians. Many people have called and emailed the school, saying that the story loosely based on the creation account in Genesis is “blasphemous and hateful.” David Edwards writes here about the statement released by the Head of School prior to the show regarding the protest:
While we have no control whether organizations from other states decide to protest the show, it is clear to me that many of the most recent emails are attempts to coerce PVPA into canceling the play. Allowing this to happen would very much go against the grain of our unique, artistic and intellectually rigorous PVPA community and the larger Pioneer Valley Community.
Honestly, the school has every right under the 1st Amendment to present such a play. While I find the premise of the play offensive both as a person and as a Christian, I understand the right to free speech. It’s the same right I have to assemble with other Christians on Sunday morning and sing and preach the gospel.
Is the play blasphemous? While I’ve not seen the play, the synopsis indicates that it is.
Is it hateful? Depends on how you define it. I don’t think it is. Making fun of something doesn’t necessarily mean you “hate” it – it’s simply a way of showing disagreement, albeit a poor way. However, if by the definition of “hateful” – like the one used to determine hate crimes – we do something “motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” They go on to state that “hate itself is not a crime”—and that they are “mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”
Freedom from “Bad Form”
Perhaps the answer is an amendment to the 1st Amendment (I’m being a bit “cheeky” here.) In the 1991 Spielberg film “Hook”, the common response to someone who broke the rules, or played outside the lines, was to shout “Bad form!” I think the PVPA is guilty of “bad form” here (as well as the one who wrote the play). Why even subject high school students to the controversy? I’m sure there are many plays that could be performed that would avoid all of the issues surrounding this particular play.
I’ll have to call “bad form” on the Head of School, too, who stated he “has no control” and that canceling the play would go “against the grain” of their community. He does – or at least should – have control over what is taught in his school. Creating a situation where students are subjected to the possibilities of offending based on bias is not what should drive their educational philosophies. There are other ways of teaching the principle than by throwing the students in the deep end of the pool.
Hypocrisy at its Best
I’m sure that Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, the maker of the film “Innocence of Muslims”, would appreciate the same rights that the PVPA has. Nakoula was arrested because his film offended Muslims on the other side of the world, and it was initially reported that the film caused riots that resulted in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya. Regardless, Nakoula should enjoy the same rights as all of us and have the freedom to express his views.
Though, I would definitely have to call “bad form!”