True Class: Steve Martin and the Eastern Oregon College Democrats

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Steve-martinYou know what makes me crazy? When the self-appointed guardians of righteousness stir up a ruckus over a school play that's been selected by a high school drama teacher and his or her students. Even worse is when school administrators buckle to the pressure.

At La Grande High School, student actors have been rehearsing for a play called Picasso at the Lapin Agile -- written by the well-known comic actor Steve Martin. (The play features a conversation in a bar between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein.) The play, scheduled to go on stage at the end of April, has earned a protest from a local mother - who objected to:

18 instances of profanity, 15 instances of "religious exclamation or religious profanities," 22 instances of sexual references or sexual content and 17 instances of alcohol use.

How shocking was the content? Here's one of the objectionable passages, per the La Grande Observer, is a bit of dialogue (by a female character):

"Then I thought, why is it that someone who wants me can hang around for months, and I even like him but I'm not going to sleep with him, but someone else says the right thing and I'm on my back, not knowing what hit me."

Shocking, I know!

Ugh. You'll find more shocking stuff in an after-school special. And nevermind that characters behave badly in literature often as cautionary tales. As the teacher, Kevin Cahill, noted at a school board meeting:

"Comedy makes us laugh first, reflect later. Steve Martin invites us to do both. Laughing at sex isn’t the same as endorsing it," Cahill said.

Once it became clear that the school district was going to cease the school-funded production, the College Democrats at Eastern Oregon University did something amazing: They stepped up, rented a space on their own campus, and offered to raise the money to put on the production.

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 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."

But that's not the end of the story. In an only-in-the-movies plot twist, Steve Martin himself has now offered to finance the production at EOU himself. He made the offer in a letter to the La Grande Observer:

It has come to my attention that there is a controversy regarding my play, "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," which was to be produced at your local high school.

First let me compliment Mr. Kevin Cahill, the teacher who selected the play, on his excellent taste! The play has been performed, without incident, all over the world by professional and amateur companies, including many high schools. ...

I have heard that some in your community have characterized the play as “people drinking in bars, and treating women as sex objects.” With apologies to William Shakespeare, this is like calling Hamlet a play about a castle. ...

Pablo Picasso, as a historical figure, does not come gift-wrapped for the sensitive. He lived as he painted, fully sexual and fully daring, and in the play he is chastised by a sage bartendress for his cavalier behavior toward women. ...

So while the question of whether students should perform the play at their high school remains something to be determined by the community, I firmly believe that seeing the play will bring no harm to them and might well uplift them — and acting in the play, if they are permitted by their parents, would also bring them no harm, and may help them to understand the potency, power and beauty of the arts and sciences. ...

To prevent the play from acquiring a reputation it does not deserve, I would like to offer this proposal: I will finance a non-profit, off-high school campus production (low-budget, I hope!), supervised and/or directed by Mr. Cahill and cast at his discretion, so that individuals, outside the jurisdiction of the school board but within the guarantees of freedom of expression provided by the Constitution of the United States, can determine whether they will or will not see the play, even if they are under 18.

I predict that the experience will not be damaging, but meaningful.

For a wild and crazy guy, that was one classy move.

And here's to the EOU College Democrats, who kept their cool and showed real leadership when the adults all around were collapsing into fits of moral hyperventilation.

  • Ed Blatch (unverified)

    Wow. Quite a story. Steve Martin is one impressive human being.

    Readers may be interested this NY Times article (link here) about the recent problems experienced by some high schools who seek to produce a high school version of Rent, recently seen at Wilson High School here in Portland.

    Rent was recently pulled from a Corona Del Mar High School in Orange County, CA. Corona Del Mar is a few miles north of Laguna Beach, and the dissonance is mind-blowing.

  • (Show?)

    I agree, Martin showed class stepping in and financing the play, so did the EOC College Democrats for offering to help. Don't be too quick to think this is the end of it though. Those who would like to see the play haulted will probably try again. I hope I'm wrong, but after reading this I have one of those strange feelings about it.

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    By the way, nice clip Kari. I'd never seen that before. Pretty damn funny.

    Here is the full clip:

  • Murphy (unverified)

    My Wish: A play based on the Song of Solomon and some high school theater department threatening to perform it.

    "A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts."

    Both "breasts" and "lies" in the same sentence. Oh. My. Word.

    Imagine these nitwits trying to stop their Bible from being preformed. They might lose their secret decoder rings.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    Being that Steve was once a writer for the Smothers Brothers (who were perpetually censored by TV network nitwits in the late 60's), this move was not surprising.

    Maybe he could show up unexpectively in La Grande along with Tom and Dick. That would be entertaining as well.

  • jonnie (unverified)

    That is classy, on many levels, including agreeing with the concerned lady on the lines begin delivered by 16/17 year olds. Good for him and for EOU to do an off-campus production. That's a win-win no matter what your ideology.

    Hopefully it doesn't make you more crazy that Steve agreed with the concerns of the mother.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Yes, this is really something to celebrate. Both college political activists and an accomplished actor, writer, comedian working together to see this play presented. Steve Martin was quoted in an Oregonian article this past week-end saying that he understood some High Schools run into diffivluty. I'm paraphrasing here.

    Now, Kari should we have the same spotlight on the censorship of the 5th grader in Portland who was not allowed to do his You Tube parady with an Obama mask on?

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Excellent article. Good, traditional journalism.

    from a local mother - who objected to:

    18 instances of profanity, 15 instances of "religious exclamation or religious profanities," 22 instances of sexual references or sexual content and 17 instances of alcohol use. </i>

    So, you seriously see a difference in her world view and the one assumed in things like the prologue to the beer tax leg.? I don't, which is why I can be as pissed at Rep. Cannon as that mother.

    This is one self-righteous asshole. If a drunk homeless guy starts yelling his opinion of the PPB, you don't report it as news. The big difference between the two is that her rantings have a chance of affecting institutional behavior. If the drunk guy was yelling about grow operations on Hawthorne, the PPB probably would be interested in listening. The implication is that the logic and world view supposed by the complainant, is shared to a consequential degree by the University. What sense would it make to protest what the drunk guy said? You would protest the PPB for listening to him. Same deal. Why is this about the woman? Doesn't that dignify her POV? The question is why a very Victorian, puritanical, failed, unenlightened, drug obsessed, fraud therapy riddled set of assumptions about child rearing, pops up in everything we encounter. One genuflects and says, "family", and it is all supposed to make sense.

    The woman's point is well taken, on one level, though. One person with nothing better to do can make the life of a lot of people trying to get something done a real hell. I am seriously thinking of selling the business, retiring, and dedicating my full energies toward harassing the harassers with the same vigor. The amount of grief you can cause someone in the information age is truly staggering. And it works. Those people are simply distracting; keeping them busy lets those working toward a solution get on with it. They like to believe they are persecuted and giving them a taste of the real thing will pique their interest to such a degree that they will quickly forget trolling the local papers, looking for something to be outraged at.

    I've always wondered why sex workers and those targeted by Christian pickets don't show up at their Church to do the same on Sunday? Yeah, they've more class. It does work, though, and I'm not prepared, at this late date, to watch another temporary economy-induced spike in the numbers of evangelicals. Most of what they do is achieved through networking; lots of social support. It's time for progressives to boycott them whenever possible, to communicate that they do not find their lifestyle acceptable. Though not a progressive approach, persons of faith have made it abundantly clear that they will not act civil, unless there's something in in for them. They want to promote intolerance for any number of lifestyles? Time to let people know that if tolerance is not the rule of the day, then we ain't a gonna tolerate their lifestyle! Perhaps, they will reconsider the benefits of tolerance.

    Time to get started. Just noticed a security guard parked in my parking space. I would normally simply mention it, but some quickie research shows that the owner is an evangelical and changed the name of the business with the SOS 5 years back. Too bad he didn't repaint the doors on the patrol car. So, that'll be a nominal charge for parking in my space and forcing me to park off-site, and $500 under (ORS 647.008 et seq.), for my having to research the name/ownership. And that's just because you're an evangelical.

    They will know we are Christians by our love. As if.

  • Phil Philiben (unverified)

    Kudos to the Eastern Oregon College Democrats! Instead of a "War on Drugs" or a "War on Terror" how about a "War on Stupid". We might also have a "War on Spineless" because it's obvious that the La Grande School Board needs to find a spine.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    Just a sidenote...I wonder of the citizens of La Grande really wanted this much attention. Already the CBC and the BBC have picked up the news on this and the CBC is sending someone from their Edmonton locale to La Grande to report live from this 'crazy city'..

    To that local La Grande mother...was being uptight about nothing really worth the trouble?

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    Now, Kari should we have the same spotlight on the censorship of the 5th grader in Portland who was not allowed to do his You Tube parady with an Obama mask on?

    Yes, we should. I was pretty angry about that on Sunday, and was planning on writing up a post about it -- but the day got away from me. Hmmm...

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    Instead of a "War on Drugs" or a "War on Terror" how about a "War on Stupid"

    Yes! Thanks, Phil. That sounds like a great slogan.

  • Anon (unverified)


    What else is there to say?

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    If you like Steve Martin, and who wouldn't, he's a class act, please pick up his very amusing autobiography, "Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life".

    It tells the story of a regular American kid who headed West with his family in the 1950's and worked very very hard, at home and on the road, to become one of our first comedy superstars.

    Great book.

  • Admiral Naismith (unverified)

    ADMIRAL NAISMITH likes this. :-)

  • JEL (unverified)

    Yes, here in eastern Oregon, as in Portland, we all have our share of narrow minded folks. But I'm sure progressive Christians like me, don't much appreciate Zarathustra's rantings against all Christians ("persons of faith have made it abundantly clear that they will not act civil"), due to the ignorance of some. He/she must not have lived thru the 60's where the civil rights and the anti-war movements were lead by Christians, i.e., REV Martin Luther King, Jr.?

    But GREAT for Steve & GREAT for the Student Democrats at EOU!!!

  • Sadie (unverified)

    Good for the EOU students and Steve Martin. I saw this play performed at Ford's Theatre in Washington DC several years ago. I was accompanying a group of senior citizens who all thoroughly enjoyed the evening and not one complaint about the content.

  • Citizen Truth (unverified)

    The lowlife authoritarian busybody control freak with the dominator issues who got the play originally banned... is Melissa K. Jackman. I think the WHO of an article is very relevant. The hero, Steve Martin, was rightfully named. But the antagonist, Melissa K. Jackman, should also be identified. After all she wrote letters, got a petititon going, and met with the School Board. She wanted to control others, period. And a sissified school board opened wide open for her.

  • Citizen Truth (unverified)

    I should also say thanks, Mr. Chisholm, for a great article.

  • Brian Collins (unverified)

    The great thing about all of this is that more people are going to see this play because of the attempt at censorship. It's funny how things work out.

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    I suspect this sort of thing occurs more frequently than people realize. I remember that one year during high school, our theater department was putting on a play called "Cocktails with Mimi". That developed into a controversy first when the theater people put up promotional posters that showed the title of the play and and empty cocktail glass, because the poster was clearly endorsing the use of alcohol. The principal then attempted to get the very name of the play changed from "Cocktails with Mimi" to "A Dinner at Mimi's". Once again, the very name of the play supposedly endorsed alcoholic consumption by students, despite the fact that drinking is not an important part of the actual plot. The principal only backed down when the theater teacher threatened to cancel the play entirely rather than have it be edited by the administration. Censorship is pretty common in the school system in all sorts of forms, school papers are another example. Another absurd example; I remember that my elementary school used to let students wear their costumes on Halloween to class, and go trick-or-treating to all the different classrooms at one point in the day. However, this practice was banned about halfway through my time there because apparently a few students had parents who believed that Halloween is devil-worship and an evil holiday.

    And my experience is from suburban Minnesota. I'm sure it's much worse in more conservative, rural areas like Eastern Oregon.

  • Vincent (unverified)

    This story dovetails nicely with the story of the self-appointed guardians of moral righteousness getting all offended at some kid in Portland wearing a Barack Obama mask during a skit at a school talent show and the administration buckling under the pressure and banning the performance.

    The Religious Right gets all in a huff over sex, religion, and profanity, and the "progressive" left is utterly schizophrenic on racial issues, lecturing everyone on the need for a "national conversation" one minute and freaking out that some 11-year old with white skin put an Obama mask on his head.

    So much for free speech.

    In any case, I'm not a big fan of Steve Martin's comedy (at least in the last 15 years or so), but I totally agree with Kari on this one. He acted with class on this one. Good show.

  • Vincent (unverified)

    Another thought:

    Isn't what happened re: Picasso at the Lapin Agile kind of the mirror of what Christians complain about every time Christmas rolls around and people get offended if classrooms, plays, and the like are totally scrubbed of any and all references to Christmas?

    I'm don't buy into all the "War on Christmas" crap, but I think there are some parallels here, only the role of "self-appointed guardians of righteousness" has switched.

    I just wish people could get over all this hyper-sensitivity and decide to just not be offended whenever they're exposed things they don't believe in.

  • BigSteveFan (unverified)

    Steve Martin is a class act. Raunchy? Hardly. See this.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    We might also have a "War on Spineless" because it's obvious that the La Grande School Board needs to find a spine.

    That was my first point, that they might actually agree with her, and are showing their idea of spine. War on stupidity was straight on.

    I clearly was attacking evangelical christians, though I do appreciate the example from a progressive that the zeal for persecution is real. BTW, I think Dr. King's movement would have been even better if it didn't need the religion crutch. It succeeded in spite of, not because of Christianity. I say that as someone that was a Franciscan seminarian at the time, marching with the movement. Slavery proved you can cherry pick any position from 'Christianity'.

    The point that I've always made is that it doesn't matter what it is, it matters how it functions and religion in our (most) society functions as social control. It may have positive functions in your life, but I totally repudiate it as a vehicle for social control, policy, evaluation or planning.

    Frankly, I associate what I was talking about more with the residents of new Bend suburbs than from the traditional, conservative residents or rural folk. Good conservatives are pragmatic and stupidity doesn't work too well.

    And just what is inappropriate about a rant as a response to an article that opens with "You know what makes me crazy? When the self-appointed guardians of righteousness...", and it makes me just as crazy? More so, as I have a head start. I can understand your being miffed, but my reaction to evangelical stupidity probably isn't the best locus of control, imhe, when you've so many of the perpetrators at hand in those new 'burbs.

    OK, I'll take it all back. Tell me they disgust you so much that you boycott Jeld-Wenn and I'll agree that there isn't a net, social, negative effect attributable to a very broad, generic, 'persons of faith' demographic.

  • amy (unverified)

    War on Stupid? Good idea but we can't get anywhere with that, really. They're everywhere.

    But how about War on Bigots? War on Thin Skin?

    In Amherst Massachusetts, they didn't do West Side Story because it stigmatized Puerto Ricans. What, they all felt they should be able to sing and dance?

    Trivia alert: That play was originally going to be about Blacks vs Jews, but it was changed to Puerto Ricans vs Whites (who were mostly Italian).

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    This is a really great play that ran in San Francisco for quite a long time. I'm tempted to run out to La Grande to see it done by high school kids. Though why has it never been staged in Portland?

  • Phil Philiben (unverified)

    "War on Stupid" I must disclosure that I copied (plagerism -oh my!) from a comment at the Daily Kos in a post about the financial crisis. Amy your right when you stated "War on Stupid? Good idea but we can't get anywhere with that, really. They're everywhere." Let's be conspiratorial - maybe we could come up with code words or a secret hand shake when faced with pure unadulterated stupid.

  • Oregoncornhusker (unverified)

    Brian Collins is right on. I'm from La Grande and recently spoke with Kevin Cahill, the play's director, and told him, "You better tell those kids that now they REALLY better perform because people will be out in droves to see what is so offensive." Also, during the school board hearing one parent said that the content would mean they wouldn't be able to attend, to which Kevin wittily replied (something to the effect), "There are more people here than ever attend our plays."

    As an aside, the school board voted 4-3 to censor the play. To those that are bashing the school board (and they should!), you should know that three board members were on the right side of this debate.

  • Casey Dreher (unverified)

    Good to see so much support for the play. The play will be free but we will be taking donations that will go to the "EOU Democrats Community Scholarship Fund for Thespians". We will soon be announcing to people that they can reserve a ticket with a donation so that people coming from out of town will be ensured a seat.

    The play will run May 16-18, times will be announced soon as well.

    If there are any questions regarding tickets or donations, please send your questions to [email protected]

    Thank you for your support!

    Casey Dreher EOU Democrats President

  • amyigibson (unverified)

    I knew there was a reason that I have a crush on that guy. Fortunately, my husband looks wildly and crazily like him.

  • Liz Smith Currie (unverified)

    Citizen Truth--though I agree that they should have named the person responsible for this stupidity, it seems sort of ironic that you don't post your real name....

    I used to work in a high school and there is no way that community would have even considered this play, or any other that was remotely controversial or had any adult themes. In some communities the culture of censorship can be so controlling that good ideas won't even be brought to the principal for fear of community backlash.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Does is matter that none of the "wars" have ever worked? I can't see why anyone would even want the metaphor, after LBJ's "War on Poverty" was cynically and callously morphed into Nixon's "War on Drugs".

  • uçak bileti (unverified)

    Have read all of the posts. Very interesting and much better disciplined than most sessions. and thank you for information.

  • TellySavales (unverified)

    Instead of canceling plays in America.... let's cancel the citizenships of religious control freak Bit**es like Melissa K. Jackman. A woman who tries to pretend to be godly.... but in reality she is so lacking in faith, so doubtful about her own place in the universe... and so worthless as an American human, that she feels the need to be an activist over a school play that offends her. (And it's not even an offensive play... that's one of the ironic parts).

    Imagine if scum like Melissa K. Jackman had the power to decide everything in life for you. She would sure take that power, if it was offered to her.

    Melissa K. Jackman is further proof that when you mix: christianity, conservatism and school politics.... you get what one would expect: Incredible Stupidity and insecure attempts at control.

    Politically "conservative christians" are neither conservative, nor Christian.

  • 2slim (unverified)

    Wow! I love the tolerance of this "pro-tolerance" crowd. Look who's calling who "guardians of righteousness". Ya bunch of........ Last time I looked, if someone wanted to protest something like a dumb play, they had a right to do so. No need to succumb to childish name calling. So can't a person lodge a complaint against something that goes against their morals without being assassinated. I mean you all say and do things all the time, according to your worldview. So why can't the person or persons making the complaint against the play have the same rights.

    Heck, why don't we find these complainers, who care about what her children are exposed too, and gas'em just like the Nazis did to the Jews. That would sink their citizenship.

    Further more, where in any of the news articles about this situation, is it documented that this is some Right-Wing Christian conspiracy?

    You people are frightening. It's your kind of attitude that is what's wrong in this world.

    Everybody has rights, until it come into conflict with you all. Then they're stupid. So much for Free Speech.

    I am tempted to start my own "War on Stupid", but I probably won't get anywhere with it because you're everywhere. Hey Phil Philiben, you could pull those boxes of yellow arm bans out of your bunker and make your "idea of stupids" wear them

    Hey TellySavales, who died and made you God?

    Did I fall into the name calling trap by calling you all a bunch of ....... and stupid?


  • Ben (unverified)

    I applaud Mr. Martin for his "classy" act. It is indeed a fine example of coming to a mutually agreeable solution.
    I do not however, see why it is so ridiculous that parents might want to exert some form of authority when it comes to their children. If my child goes to a school where they present material I find offensive, for whatever my reasons may be, I will exercise my right to object. Why should we find this offensive? Do it off campus then let individual parents decide if their children should participate instead of funding it through the school

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