Plan-B Theatre enlists Utah politicians to celebrate banned books
Stage • “And the Banned Played On” to feature children’s classics.
Published: May 2, 2014 03:16PM
Updated: May 2, 2014 12:39PM
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| Courtesy Photo Book cover for "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl."

The latest edition of Plan-B Theatre’s “And the Banned Played On” will celebrate classic children’s literature, the stories you and I grew up on, all of which have sparked calls for censorship in schools or libraries across the country in the past two decades.

Think “The Giving Tree.” (Banned in Colorado in 1988 because it was “sexist” and “criminalized the foresting agency.”) Think “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” (Banned in Colorado in 1988 because it espoused a “poor philosophy of life.”) Think “James and the Giant Peach.” (Banned in Texas in 1999 because of the use of the word “ass.”) Think “Green Eggs and Ham.”(Banned in California as recently as 1991 because of “homosexual seduction.”)

Think “Charlotte’s Web” or “Winnie-the-Pooh.” (Banned in various states in 2006 because talking animals are “an insult to God.”) Think “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.” (Banned in Virginia in 2010 because of its “sexual conduct and homosexual themes.”)

“With all the issues there are in the world, why would you have a problem with the fact that a pig speaks in ‘Charlotte’s Web’ or in ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’?” asks Jerry Rapier, producing director of Plan-B Theatre Company.

“Banned,” pitched as an event celebrating free speech, draws upon a list of censored children’s classics published on Buzzfeed in 2013, highlighting bans across the country in the past two decades. The event will feature X-96 Radio hosts Bill Allred, Kerry Jackson and Gina Barberi as emcees, as well as readers ranging from Salt Lake City and County mayors Ralph Becker and Ben McAdams, Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold, state Sen. Jim Dabakis, state Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck and actor Anne Cullimore Decker.

“We like to have people out of context,” Rapier says. “Not too many people have heard Ralph Becker read ‘The Giving Tree’ or heard Ben McAdams read from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ or Jim Dabakis read from ‘James and the Giant Peach.’ And who doesn’t want to see Anne Decker read ‘Green Eggs and Ham’? I mean, really. It gives people a chance to see them in another life.”

At “Banned,” any donations beyond ticket fees will help pay for a new leg of the company’s anti-bullying educational tour, Matthew Ivan Bennet’s “Different = Amazing.” But the event also serves as a chance to introduce the company’s upcoming season of non-censored works by Bennett and five other Utah playwrights.

Some of the fun of the readings is trying to figure out what possibly could have led to the ban. Sometimes, the banners might not have even read the book. In one case, banners in Texas confused picture-book author Bill Martin Jr. of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” with philosopher Bill Martin of “Ethical Marxism.”

In some cases, even the progressive patrons likely to come to the event might agree, for example, to the idea of avoiding reading the word “ass” to young children.

“I grew up in a town of 700 people,” says Rapier, explaining why children’s literature matters so much to him and the theater company. “The library was open a couple of afternoons a week. This was before the Internet, before cable television, when living in a rural area truly was isolation. I literally read every book in that library. They were my friends.”

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‘And the Banned Played On’

P Plan-B Theatre Company presents an evening of readings of classic children’s books to celebrate free speech.

When • Saturday, 8 p.m.

Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center’s Jeanné Wagner Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $25 ($10 students) at 801-355-2787 or planbtheatre.org.

And now for something completely different

Plan-B Theatre, committed to creating socially conscious theater, announces its upcoming season, which features seven premieres written by four female and two male playwrights. “To the general public, I don’t think that’s a big deal, but I want to talk about it as much as I can because people don’t understand how hard it is for female playwrights to get produced,” says Jerry Rapier, the company’s producing director.

Season tickets • $88; on sale Saturday at “And the Banned Played On” and May 5 at planbtheatre.org

Oct. 15 • “Radio Hour Episode 9: Grimm,” by Matthew Ivan Bennett, directed by Cheryl Ann Cluff, drawing upon the fairy tales “Rapunzel,” “Little Snow-White” and “The Juniper Tree.” The show will be performed as live radio drama and broadcast on KUER’s “Radio West.” “We really wanted to be nice and Grimm for Halloween,” Rapier says.

Dec. 11-21 • “Christmas with Misfits,” four short plays by Julie Jensen, directed by Cluff. In her hatred of the holiday, Jensen has really written a love letter to Christmas. “The plays are incredibly funny, incredibly touching and definitely not stories that most people would associate with the holiday,” Rapier says.

Feb. 12-22 • “Mama,” by Carleton Bluford, directed by Rapier. Selected from 24 submissions to earn the inaugural grant from the David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists. “It’s a wonderful serendipity that the first winner is someone who had shared the stage with David [who died in December 2012], and they had lots of conversations about what they did and didn’t like about theater, and lots of conversations about their mothers,” Rapier says.

March 5-15 • “A Version of Events,” by Matthew Ivan Bennett, directed by Christy Summerhays. Bennett’s play, inspired by the retelling of a family story, focuses on the fractured marriage of a young LDS couple on a road trip to Hershey, Penn., after the death of their young son. “It’s very human, very difficult at times, but also very accessible,” Rapier says. “It asks: How do you stay married when the focus disappears?”

April 9-19 • “Pilot Program,” by Melissa Leilani Larson, directed by Rapier. A what-if play, set in 2019, about a happily married LDS couple who are called to be part of a pilot program reintroducing the practice of polygamy. “We’ve explored polygamy before with Jenifer Nii’s play ‘Suffrage,’ but focused on a historical context,” Rapier says. “What Mel is really cleverly capturing here is the zeitgeist of now.”

Additional shows

Dec. 20-23 • Script-in-Hand reading of “Marry Christmas,” by Elaine Jarvik, directed by Jason Bowcutt, a benefit for Restore Our Humanity. “We want to celebrate the anniversary and give those stories some additional life,” says Rapier of the 1,243 lesbian and gay couples married in Utah between Dec. 20, 2013, and Jan. 6, 2014.

Tickets • $20

Fall 2015 • Public performance and the launch of an elementary-school tour of Jennifer Nii’s “Ruff,” a story about two shelter dogs that’s really about figuring out how to be who you really are, says Rapier, who will direct the show. The preshow will teach kids some dog training tips that they can use during the show.