Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Public Charter School takes fire for play’s homosexual version of Old Testament
SOUTH HADLEY — A school theater production that retells the Book of Genesis with gay characters is drawing fire from critics who find it offensive to their religious beliefs, but officials at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Public Charter School say the show must go on.
In a letter sent Wednesday to parents and guardians, PVPA Head of School Scott Goldman shed light on hundreds of email petitions sent to school officials describing Paul Rudnick’s “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” as a “blasphemous and hateful production.”
The language of the petition requests that the school reconsider and cancel the performances, which are scheduled for March 15 to 17 at the Academy of Music in Northampton. Goldman informed the school community that the tone and tenor of many of the emails were “firm but respectful,” and others “heartfelt and personal.”
He noted, however, that many other emails associated with the petition drive appeared to be attacks filled with hatred and intolerance of differing beliefs and backgrounds.
“Additionally, we have received several out-of-state phone calls from individuals informing us that they hope to influence local churches to organize a protest at the Academy of Music during the show’s run,” Goldman wrote in Wednesday’s letter to parents and guardians. He added that allowing protests to stop the play “would go against the grain of our unique, artistic, and intellectually rigorous PVPA community.”
PVPA’s marketing of Rudnick’s play presents it this way: “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.”
The satirical comedy, PVPA reminds the public, is “cheeky, raucously funny, surprisingly tender and ultimately wise as it dissects history, relationships, gay politics and the mystery of faith.”
A cast of 10 students is set to perform the two couples and other roles, including the Pharaoh, a paraplegic lesbian rabbi and a stage manager “who is, after all, God,” according to the play’s description.
The play first opened at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1998. In a review, theater critic Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote that “line by line, Mr. Rudnick may be the funniest writer for the stage in the United States today.”
The play has been performed around the country and has often generated protests.
Goldman said most of the criticism appears to be from out of state. One online email petition identified by the Gazette comes from the site of a blog associated with a religious website with contacts in Pennsylvania. One of the stated missions of the blog is to “oppose blasphemy in the public square.”
It includes a harsh write-up of PVPA’s planned production and boilerplate language in the form of an email petition addressed to Goldman.
“In allowing this attack on the Mother of God through the play The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, you offend the religious faith of tens-of-millions of Catholic and other Christian Americans,” the petition language reads. “There is no excuse or reason for this blasphemy.”
“Our prayers and hopes are that you reconsider staging this play,” the petition continues. “Please find the courage to do the right thing and set a good example to the hundreds of young adolescents in your school — cancel this blasphemous and hateful production.”
As of 9 p.m. Wednesday, the site recorded that 11,424 email petitions had been launched at the school. Senders can amend the language of the petition to include their own.
In a statement issued Wednesday night, Goldman reiterated the school’s commitment to producing the play, which he said is consistent with the school’s philosophy and is, in the school’s view, an appropriate theater piece for PVPA high school actors and a high school and adult audience. The production is not intended for younger audience members, according to school officials.
In his letter to the school community, Goldman said PVPA hopes the school play raises important questions about the intersection of politics and faith, as well as the need for all people to come together to discover what they have in common and how difficult that can be in today’s world.
In a statement issued Wednesday night, he asked, “Is it the role of public school to facilitate an exchange of ideas on the themes explored in this particular play? This is an excellent question, with answers that I imagine will be debated in what I hope will be climate of civility, and a desire to understand others’ viewpoints.”
The Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Public Charter School serves 400 students in grades 7 to 12 from more than 60 towns in western Massachusetts. The school’s stated mission is to “connect the creative process with critical thinking to inspire a love of learning.”
Dan Crowley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.