Samantha Geller won a young playwrights' contest in Charlotte, North Carolina, but because of the piece's lesbian content, the show won't be produced there. Silver lining? Ms. Gellar's play will be the focus of an all star benefit evening June 14 at New York's Public Theater, featuring such notables as Mary-Louise Parker, Kathleen Chalfant and Tony Kushner.
According to benefit spokesperson Ron Lasko, seventeen-year-old Gellar submitted her one-act, Life Versus The Paperback Romance, to the Charlotte Young Playwrights Festival in Charlotte, North Carolina. The play was one of five winners. The four others were produced in February by the Children's Theater of Charlotte, which runs the Festival. Romance, however, was judged age-inappropriate for production, since the winning plays are staged in schools as well as for a general audience.
Romance concerns two women, one visually impaired, who meet on a bus, talk, and begin to fall in love. Spokesperson Lasko, who had not yet read the play, said he was informed that although the play ends with a kiss, there's no nudity or overt sexual content in the piece. Lasko added that according to stories in the Charlotte press, the Festival has previously nixed other works for production due to language and other content issues. That said, he also noted that the Children's Theater of Charlotte receives money from the public school system to run the Festival and other programs. According to the Charlotte Observer newspaper, the play was eventually read, March 7, at the Great Aunt Stella Center in Charlotte.
With those battle lines drawn, It's likely issues raised in Congressional debates over National Endowment for the Arts funding will surface in this situation as well. The first salvo from the liberal side will be fired June 14 at the Public Theater, where Romance will be the centerpiece of an evening titled "Not Just A Stage: Youth Against Censorship." The benefit will raise money for the National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYAC) and Time Out Youth, which serve "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth."
Jo Bonney, director of Stop Kiss (also a lesbian-oriented play), will stage the reading of Paperback Romance, with Pulitzer-winner Paula Vogel, a lesbian playwright, serving as dramaturg. Mary-Louise Parker, last seen Off-Broadway in Communicating Doors, stars, alongside Lisa Kron, one of the Five Lesbian Brothers and star of the solo 2.5 Minute Ride, currently at the Public. The Lesbian Brothers are also on the evening's bill, as are Terrence McNally (Love! Valour! Compassion!), director-playwright George C. Wolfe, who runs the Public Theater, Lea DeLaria (On The Town), Kathleen Chalfant (Wit), Brian Freeman, Tanya Barfield, Carmelita Tropicana and host Kate Clinton. They'll be reading letters of support for Gellar, as well as testimonials from youths helped by the organmizations being feted. According to an article in the Charlotte Observer, performance artist Holly Hughes (one of "the NEA Four") helped put the benefit together. "As someone who has found herself in a very similar place," Hughes told the Observer, "I felt a kinship with Sam [Gellar]. We want to...send a message that the kind of homophobia that is standard public policy across the United States is unacceptable." A call to Children's Theater of Charlotte's artistic director was not returned by press time.
For information on "Not Just A Stage: Youth Against Censorship" at NY's Public Theater call the NYAC in Washington, DC at (202) 319-7596, x.16. Tickets ($50) are available by mail order only.
-- By David Lefkowitz