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In February of this year in Fulton, Missouri, the
local high school put on a production of the play "Grease."† After
the production, some complaints about the appropriateness of the play were
lodged with school authorities, including some complaints from people who had
not seen any of the performances.† Specifically, reports of on-stage kissing
and drinking offended some members of the community.† The principal of the
school, who had previously approved the play, retracted his approval, and
announced that the planned production of "The Crucible" would not
take place.† He cited concerns about the appropriateness of material in that
play as well.
This real-life incident echoes the
events of Kath Koja's latest book Talk.† In Talk, a controversial
high school play also creates a stir in a small community.† The school board
caves into the concerns, and the school's production is cancelled.† Unlike the
response in Fulton, the students do not take no for an answer. †They work to be
able to perform the play elsewhere.
Talk is told by two narrators in
alternating chapters.† Kit is the male lead in the play, his first acting
experience.† He nurses a crush on Pablo, an older student who literally does
not know Kit exists.† Lindsay, the female lead, is a self-involved queen bee
who gradually comes to be aware of Kit's charms.† Their chapters are
interspersed with dialogue from the play, Talk, which is about
resistance to a dictatorial government.† The constant shifting of focus, from
one character to another to the fictional script, is never jarring.† Kit and
Lindsay have distinctly different voices and perspectives, and Koja never
falters in her portrayal of either one.†
Talk may be one of those
"post-gay" books, a nebulous term but one we cannot escape.† It is
not a traditional story of a tortured young man who wrestles with his
sexuality.† When Kit comes out to his parents it is not a major big deal, to
him or them.† His torture comes more from his infatuation with Pablo.
The book is saved from coming
across as self-righteous or preachy by the voices of its protagonists.† Free
speech is certainly at stake for the students, but also in evidence are the
desire to be in the spotlight ("Six News will be there… Keep an eye out
for [the local reporter!] counsels Lindsay's mother just before the rally to
support the play), behind the scenes politics (one of the most vocal critics of
the play is the mother of a boy who didn't get a part), and the ever-shifting
hierarchies of high school society.† It sounds real.
Of course, what is real and what
merely sounds real may be two different things.† "It's over.† We can't do
anything about it.† We just have to obey," a 15-year old Fulton student is
quoted in the New York Times (February 11, 2006) about the cancellation of the
production of The Crucible.† Another noted that in The Crucible "People
get hung; there's death in it. It's not appropriate."† Is it only in
fiction today where we find kids willing to take on authority, or at least go
down swinging?† Maybe we should send some copies of Talk out to Fulton.
© 2006 Elizabeth
O'Connor, Ph.D. is co-author with Suzanne Johnson of For Lesbian Parents
2001) and The Gay Baby Boom: The Psychology of Gay Parenthood (NYU
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