Dramas Offstage: School Plays Rouse Opposition Coast-to-Coast
By Mary Walsh SIECUS Program Research Intern
A Pulitzer Prize-winning play has been deemed unfit for California’s Palm Desert High School due to its references to sex, homosexuality, alcohol, and its characters’ use of curse words. Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, originally written in 1955, became a movie seen by millions in 1958. When questioned about the decision to ban a play written over 60 years ago, Palm Desert’s principal Bob Hicks cited budgetary reasons; however, the budget for the play had already been approved on August 30th of this year. Students and theater teacher John Hadley suggested that budget was less of an issue than sexual expression.1
The amount of editing needed to omit sexual references would have changed the nature of the play considerably. Principal Hicks pointed out that Palm Desert needs to keep its audience in mind, saying that Cat might not be appropriate for younger siblings or grandparents, though many of today’s grandparents were children when Williams won his Pulitzer.
Nationally, the play has long been popular for high schools to perform. For example in Texas, Houston’s Montgomery High School performed the play in September 2011 with minor edits. The student director there, senior Hunter Odom, said that “[they] toned it down without dumbing it down.” They wanted to make sure that “it’s a compelling story, but one that won’t offend.” 2
Meanwhile in Connecticut, Hartford Public High School is stirring up a different kind of controversy with a production of Zanna Don’t, a play set in a fictional world where homosexuality is normative and embraced. Hartford produced the play as part of an anti-bullying initiative, featuring a gay-male kiss which prompted about 30 mostly male students to walk out of the first production. 3
The opposition group Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC) issued a denunciation of the play and urged local conservatives to “send a letter to the Hartford Courant politely expressing disagreement with [the school’s] decision to indoctrinate students in the homosexual agenda, particularly without even notifying parents that they have the right to opt-out their children.” 4 In a statement to the Courant, however, executive principal Jack Baldermann noted that performances for freshmen would require active parental permission to attend. He defended the play as part of Hartford Public High’s effort to become a better school: “Part of that is talking about tough issues. It’s not just algebra and history and English, as important as that is…I mean, really, in this day and age – our students watch movies where people are killed and maimed, and they don’t walk out.”5
1 Denise Goolsby, “Controversy gets ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ cancelled at Palm Desert High School,” The Desert Sun, 15 October 2011, accessed 24 October 2011, <http://www.mydesert.com/article/20111015/NEWS04/110150315/Cat-on-a-Hot-Tin-Roof-canceled-Palm-Desert-High?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CFrontpage>.
2 Brad Meyer, “Montgomery High to present ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’,” YourConroeNews.com, 19 September 2010, accessed 24 October 2011, <http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/courier/news/article_66576822-e3b7-5d2f-a021-8900b796a500.html>.
3 Adam Polaski, “Gay Kiss Prompts Students to Walk Out of School Play,” The Bilerico Project, 19 October 2011, accessed 24 October 2011, <http://www.bilerico.com/2011/10/gay_kiss_prompts_students_to_walk_out_of_school_pl.php>.
4 “Just As We Warned: Outrageous Attack on Parental Rights,” FIC Grassroots Action Center, Family Institute of Connecticut web site, 17 October 2011, accessed 28 October 2011,
5Vaneesa De La Torre, “Gay Kiss At Hartford Public High School Continues to Stir Reaction,” The Hartford Courant, 20 October 2011, accessed 24 October 2011, <http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-hartford-zanna-1021-20111020,0,5725718.story>.