The much-debated theatrical production "Secrets" makes its debut at Fallston High School this month. It will be sans the scene in which actors demonstrate the proper procedure for donning a condom, using a banana as a stand-in for the real thing.
The scene, and to an extent the entire production itself, has been the object of Sodom and Gomorrah hysteria from some parents and a local conservative women's coalition, which have badly misconstrued the central themes and messagesin the production.
I sat in on the production last week at a private school in Baltimore that has a strong mix of well-heeled and disadvantaged students.The scene the Harford school board ordered dropped from all Harford productions was in the production I saw. It was handled in good tasteand delivered information condom companies fail to provide well on their products. Critics of the play would have us believe it endorses promiscuity and homosexuality and "encourages" sexual activity among teens.
It is true that the production revolves around mostly youngcharacters who are either considering intimate sexual behavior or who talk openly about current or past sexual activity.
But if any message caroms off the stage time and again, it is the very message that opponents of the production say teens -- who every recent major research study says are sexually active -- need to hear.
That messageis this: In this age of the AIDS virus, there is no such thing as 100 percent safe sex or safe drug use with needles. Share a needle one time and you can get HIV. Have unprotected sex one time with someone who you aren't absolutely certain isn't infected and you could get the virus. Abstaining from drug use and sexual activity is the best wayto keep from getting AIDS. There is no cure once you are infected.
It's important to keep in mind as the production shows up in local schools that recent surveys by Planned Parenthood of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University researchers have shown that educating teens about condoms and AIDS does not result in new or increased sexual activity.
In fact, researchers found that the education, coupled with counseling about how behavior can be changed, resulted in kids reporting that they planned to weigh decisions about drug use and sexual activity before any action.
There are other powerful messages in the Secrets production that some parents and the conservative womens group, The Concerned Women For America, may not want their kids to hear. But these messages are enormously important for everyone, particularlythe kids. Such as:
* Birth control (i.e. diaphragms and sponges) is not synonymous with disease prevention. The best way to prevent the spread of disease if one plans sexual intimacy is condom use. Learnhow to use one properly. Improper condom use is the main reason for failure.
* There is far more to a relationship than sex and fun times. Honesty, open-mindedness and making a concerted effort to reallyget to know someone and that person's history are paramount.
Through dramatizations of believable, real-life situations, the production makes it chillingly clear that as well as you might think you know and trust someone, you run the risk that they haven't told you a secret about their own life and behavior.
There's the high-brow adult woman who occasionally shoots up as a form of recreation, buying her drugs and needles from a street contact. Her husband isn't aware of her secret. And there's the everyday gregarious high school kid, on top of the world because he's found a new girlfriend. There was just that one time, though, he slipped. An act of bravado with the boys, he shared a needle.
He's willing to talk openly with his newfound love about making love, but he hasn't shared his deeper concern. Did he contract HIV when he shared the needle?
As the production unfolded, it was interesting how many students in the packed auditorium were riveted to their seats, eyes shot wide open, focused on the stage. Nofidgeting, bored teens here.
The production packs a lot of factual medical information into a roller coaster ride of humor and pathos.Particularly effective are vignettes of worried teens calling an AIDS hot line for information and advice.
The characters ask frank questions. And they get straight answers, not moralizing and hysteria.