Authors Lift Curse From Play

School's 'Jabberwock', Minus Profanity,ok'd

April 19, 1992|By Michael K. Burns | Michael K. Burns,Staff writer

The authors of the play "Jabberwock" have agreed to allow North Harford Middle School eighth-graders to perform an edited version withoutany profanity.

The production, twice threatened with cancellationover curse words in the script, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the school auditorium. Proceeds from the play will go to the United Way. Tickets are $2

The dilemma was resolved last week when the playwrights said their script could be purged of expletives for the performance by the students.

Schools Superintendent Ray R. Keech said a month ago he would not permit the play to be performed if profanity was kept in the dialogue.

The play's publisher, Samuel French Co., maintained that no changes of the original language would be permitted.

But the edited script finally received approval from the authors, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, who said that the changes "do not, in our minds, injure the energy and truth inherent in the play and in James Thurber's source work."

The play is based on humorous writings by Thurber about his adolescence.

"We are sad that our play, which has never been subject to this kind of alarmed criticism, should be construed as a baleful influence on your community," the authors wrote North Harford teacher Tom Berg -- who had contacted the authors -- grantingpermission to perform an edited version of the play.

The controversy arose because of profanity sprinkled through the play, mostly spoken by Thurber's crotchety grandfather, frustrated by a changing world.

North Harford teachers Virginia Huller and Berg, whose classes have put on a play for the past 14 years as part of a gifted-and-talented course, originally deleted various expletives at the request of county schools officials.

They left in five profanities, which they felt were essential to define the character.

But some parents still objected, and four children were pulled out of the production by parents.

Keech then ordered that those five words be removed if the play were to be performed.

But several parents and others, stillprotesting the "moral tone" of the play and seeking its cancellation, wrote the Samuel French Co. The publisher replied that it would notpermit performance of "Jabberwock" with a changed script.

The authors' agreement to allow an edited version of the play to be performed put Berg at ease.

"We're obviously very grateful to the authors"for the permission," Berg said. "We would also like to thank the many members of the community and faculty that have supported us in our efforts to produce thoughtful drama."

The furor over the play was unexpected, as the middle school principal, R. David Denton, initially authorized the original script.

The comedy, which is used to discuss social themes in the social studies and language arts course, did not appear to contain controversial themes, as did some past productions of the Pylesville middle school, such as "Inherit the Wind," "The Last Babylon" or "Fahrenheit 451."

Objections from some parentsbegan when children brought home their scripts to practice. The parents objected to school endorsement of "blasphemous" and "profane" language uttered by students on stage -- conduct they argued would not be tolerated in the hallways or on school buses.

Some told the school board they objected to "suggestions of nudity" and "sexual innuendo," in addition to the profanity.

The school board declined to take up the issue.

Huller and Berg defended their script for its dramatic integrity and posed the conflict as one over freedom of speech. They argued that the curse words were an essential part of the character, and that their students could distinguish between the right and wrong contexts for such language.

The annual play is a part of theeight-week social studies and language arts class. It has usually been given a public performance for the community.

Students and parents raise money to buy playbooks and support the production. This year, some money was used to hire a drama coach for a week to instruct students on stagecraft.

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