Parents protest school play production

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Listening to speakers reading excerpts from the play version of "Les Misbles," the Moffat County School District's Board of Education meeting Monday started off sounding more like a Broadway dress rehearsal.

But parents for and against Moffat County High School's two-act production of the classic set in and around the French Revolution weren't going through the motions in the first half an hour of the board's public comment period. They raised moral objections to the play's perceived portrayal of women, its language and sexual innuendo.

"We do not make any decisions at this time," Phil Hastings, school board president, told attendees Monday after the audience debated whether planned performances of the play should be allowed.

Preparations have been underway for more than a month at the high school, while director Amy Coleman and her 40 student participants are targeting performances for Nov. 21, 22 and 23.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 25

But several parents who pulled their children out of the play want it stopped altogether.

This, after Coleman, also an English and speech teacher at the high school, cut out one scene from the play's original script and re-wrote dialogue, toning down 12 individual profanities, phrases or lines in the musical.

Coleman, citing a letter dated last week, said she's waiting for approval on copyright issues to produce the altered version.

Jennifer Hardin, who held her daughter out of the production, claimed through e-mail correspondence with Music Theatre International, which would approve changes to the original script of "Les Misbles," that officials there told her they have not received a request to alter content.

"Are you going to allow small children to see this trash?" Hardin asked the board, which didn't respond during its "Let's Listen" public comment period. Hastings enforced a five-minute time limit per speaker.

"My daughter has been persecuted because she hasn't been allowed to sing these songs," Hardin said.

Parrish Terry, whose daughter was held out prior to the revisions in the script, recited excerpts from the play along with Hardin. Terry said the material is inappropriate for high school students.

"When we're going through times such as we are as a nation, we need to have a positive play," Terry said. "The contents do not have a good moral basis, and I'm not speaking of Christianity, I'm just speaking of basic morals."

Terry cited Moffat County High School's student handbook, which outlines "zero tolerance" policies against verbal, physical or sexual harassment, alcohol or drugs, profanities or unlawful or "unsafe" acts.

"Les Misbles" flies in the face of those mandates, he argued.

Wendy Kane, a substitute teacher with the district, defended the play, asking critics whether they've been to museums with various historical or religious artwork.

"Some of these people are nude," Kane said, whose 15-year-old daughter is a participant in the play.

"Perhaps you would like to anonymously walk down the hallways on a given day, or attend an athletic event, and, despite the rules against it (profanity), listen to the very language, and its intent, that you have the same concerns about with this play," Kane told the board.

She also warned of a "can of worms" to be opened should the board move to block its production. Issues raised by the play do hit home, she said.

"Craig is not exempt, or we would have to deny teen pregnancies, foul language, violence, drugs and alcohol in the schools and our community and its effect on our children in this community," she said.

Coleman, meanwhile, said work would move forward despite the controversy.

The play, in fact, celebrates love of country, paternal, fraternal love and friendship among other worthwhile concepts and ideas, she argued.

"It hardly glorifies prostitution, and the play is not about that," Coleman said. "They're all sick and lonely people."

Coleman said she chose the play over "Annie Got a Gun" for production this fall, and both high school and school district administration signed off on her choice prior to making any preparations.

Parents last month were invited, along with would-be student participants, to a meeting on "Les Misbles," at which the entire production was aired.

The meeting was sparsely attended, she said.

"Les Misbles," based on a novel written by Victor Hugo, is one of the longest running theater productions in history, translated into some 16 languages.

"Moffat County would be one of the first high schools in the world to produce it," she said.

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com

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