Play banned at LHS will run at EOU

By Dick Mason, The Observer March 03, 2009 02:28 pm

A major La Grande High School controversy may be nearing its conclusion.

EOU President Dixie Lund announced Monday afternoon that due to a state non-discrimination law Eastern must allow an LHS play, banned by the La Grande School District because of its adult content, to be performed on the Eastern campus.

The play, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” was canceled by La Grande School District Superintendent Larry Glaze on Feb. 20 due to its adult content, after he received a written parent complaint and a petition signed by 137 community members. The school board supported Glaze’s decision at a Feb. 25 meeting, voting 4-3 against an appeal of the superintendent’s decision.

Lund’s Monday afternoon announcement at EOU came after she made a decision late last week that she assumed would prevent the play from being performed at Eastern.

Lund decided last week that Eastern’s administration could not be involved in hosting the production because “the (La Grande) superintendent and the school district board have determined it is inappropriate for high school students to perform.’’

In elaborating on this statement, Lund added, “I as president do not want to counter what the La Grande School District decided for students. So I opposed this play and supported the La Grande School District’s decision not to have the play.’’

Lund did not reverse her decision Monday. Rather she was forced to respond to a new wrinkle. Monday morning Lund received a written request from EOU anthropology professor  Linda Jerofke on behalf of the EOU Student Democrats club. The request asked that the EOU Student Democrats be permitted to rent space at Eastern to allow the LHS cast to perform “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”

Lund said she had no choice but to allow the EOU Student Democrats to rent space and host the play.

“As a public institution, we must abide by a non-discrimination policy, which permits rental of campus facilities by outside groups or clubs,’’ Lund said.

The EOU Student Democrats will handle all the arrangements including fund raising and providing set materials and costumes. No materials or items from La Grande High School can be used because the school district banned the production.

The play will likely be staged in May, according to Casey Dreher, president of the EOU Student Democrats. The play had first been scheduled to run April 23-25 at LHS.

The total expense of sponsoring the production will include the rental of space and payments for lighting and sound technicians and custodians. Because of things like personnel costs, it is not yet precisely known what the play will cost.

Members of the EOU Student Democrats decided to step forward after attending the Feb. 25 school board meeting at which an appeal of Glaze’s decision was denied.

“I was appalled,’’ Dreher said. “The people who got the play canceled were not the majority.’’

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” was written by Steve Martin, the well known actor and comedian, in 1993. The play features the characters Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso at a bar in 1904, when both were on the verge of their landmark works. It is generally assumed the play warrants a PG-13 rating.

“Everybody (acting) in the play is (older than) 13,’’ Dreher said.

The play contains a number of references to drinking and sexual activity. Andrea Elbert, a member of the EOU Student Democrats, does not believe the play’s content will encourage people to act irresponsibly. In fact, she believes it could have a reverse impact.

“Everyone wants to rebel. When something is secretive, you are more likely to do it. If you talk about it openly, you are less likely to do it,’’ Elbert said.

Robert D’Agostino, also a EOU Student Democrats member, agrees. He said that people do not find doing improper things exciting when they are allowed.

Dreher believes the firestorm created by the play could prove beneficial.

“I believe controversy leads to discussions, which are conducive to learning,’’ the EOU student said.

People will be able to donate money for the play at a local bank where an account will be set up and via an Internet system that will provide receipts contributors can use when applying for tax deductions.

Tickets will not be sold for the play but donations will be accepted. Proceeds will go to a scholarship fund for thespian students at EOU.

LHS French and English teacher Kevin Cahill, the play’s director and the one who selected Martin’s play, said he is pleased with Monday’s news.

“I congratulate the students and faculty at Eastern for being a voice in support of this project. Myself and the young people with whom I’ll be collaborating with on this project will do our best to honor the trust and support shown in us by staging a quality show, which is all we ever wanted to do in the first place,’’ Cahill said.

Auditions for “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” were conducted in mid-January, and rehearsals began Feb. 2. Rehearsals have had to be conducted off campus since the play was banned Feb. 20.

Cast member Madison Young said Monday she has good feelings about Monday’s decision.

“I am relieved, excited and grateful. We are going to show that theater is something that needs to be supported.’’