by Dean Barrett

Once upon a time, long long ago in the Jade Heaven of the Western Paradise there was a Kingdom known far and wide for the quality of its theatrical productions. The subjects of this Kingdom - men and women, young and old, rich and poor - realized the importance of the theater and both producers and audiences alike were bound in the belief that, like all great fiction, well-crafted and well-acted plays could illuminate the human condition.

Then one day - a day which began quite like any other - a group of subjects petitioned the King. They were members of the Royal Society to Prevent Cruel Allusions to Animals and it was their contention that certain titles of plays might be changed to better protect against the more impressionable members of the Kingdom. The King was a kindly old fellow who loved harmony and hated contention and spent most of his time watching reruns of "The King and I" and "No, No Nanette." An animal lover himself, the King could understand that animal rights must be protected.

He decided that such a small request could not harm the integrity of the Kingdom's flourishing theater and signed the decree allowing for minor changes in play titles. As long as such changes were for the common good. And so it came to pass that "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" was changed to "Contented Kitty on a cool shady porch."

Not long after, another group of subjects petitioned the King. They pointed out that many titles of plays were unfair to female subjects and requested permission to alter a few titles; of course, for the common good. The kindly old King wished not to be disturbed as it was time for his nap. Again he gave his permission and soon "Guys and Dolls" became "Malepersons and Femalepersons," "Death of a Salesman" became "Death of a Salesperson," and "My Fair Lady" became "My Fair Woman," "The Lion King" became "The Lion Queen," and "Miss Saigon" became "Ms. Ho Chi Minh City."

It wasn't long before the Kingdom's religious hierarchy petitioned the monarch about something which had bothered its members for some time and soon, among the ringing of bells, "Death in the Cathedral" became "Murder in the Mosque," and "Sunday in the Park with George" became "Weekdays in the Park with George."

Those who lived on the eastern districts of the Kingdom also petitioned the King and were soon granted the right to redress that which aggrieved them and soon "West Side Story" was changed to "Equidistant Story."

The various groups, flush with success at these title changes, soon directed their attention to the contents of the plays as well. The women of the Kingdom pointed out that, in their opinion, much of the contents of plays were unfair to women; and so it came to pass that several plays, from Shakespeare to Sam Shepard, were banned. All for the common good.

Others, under the guise of protecting children from learning anything not politically correct, asked that titles of several plays be changed. And so, for example, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" became "The bellringer of Notre Dame." Of course, this was not censorship; it was to protect little children.

Then various ethnic groups, some born in the Kingdom and some recently arrived from other Kingdoms, demanded that their image be protected as well and they began picketing any play which did not portray them at their best. A few timid voices pointed out that one of the best ways to explore the human condition was by challenging cherished beliefs, and that it was not the purpose of the theater to make certain that everyone feels satisfied; and they insisted that plays that upset people - be they minorities or the majority - might have more value than plays that made people feel good, but they were quickly shouted down. More plays were banned. All for the common good.

Then various fanatical brotherhoods masquerading as religions demanded the death of any writer who displeased its members. More plays were banned; fewer plays were produced; many playwrights stopped writing altogether and became stockbrokers, sports announcers and public relations corporate counselors.

Next came those who felt there was too much violence, those who felt there was too much sex, those who felt there was too much profanity and those who felt there was unorthodox sex. Even Royal Commissions which had aided playwrights in the past now refused to aid those whose work proved controversial.

The kindly King, hoping to avoid controversy, readily agreed to all demands. And so it came to pass through a royal decree that any play - the content of which bothered anyone for any reason - was not to be performed in the Kingdom. Much to the delight of the petitioners, plays which they felt in any way insulted them were no longer performed; unfortunately, soon no plays were performed at all and theaters were turned into video game rooms, churches, fast food franchises and stores selling souvenirs from plays which were no longer performed. All for the common good.

For various abstruse reasons, both "The King and I" and "No, No Nanette" were also banned and the elderly King now spent his time inside his castle, morose and forlorn, watching reruns of "Desperate Housewives" and reruns of the Knicks vs. the Lakers. But no longer were angry letters written to newspapers and no longer were small but vitriolic groups of subjects picketing outside theaters and no longer did anyone have any complaint whatever against plays performed in the Kingdom: for there were none. Common sense and a spirit of fair play had prevailed.

Everyone - both sexes, all races, all ethnic groups, all religious organizations, all political parties, everyone now had nothing to fear from the theater. And anyone who entered a theater no longer entertained the least worry that he or she might be provoked, inspired, moved, thrilled, aroused, amused, outraged, excited or stimulated. And all in the Jade Heaven of the Western Paradise lived happily ever after.




Copyright Dean Barrett 2014

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"When a tough, honest writer can look squarely at all the horrors of the world, face all the facts, and still come up with a hard-won, joyous celebration of life at the end, in spite of everything, that can be wonderful." - Richard Yates