Friday, December 18, 2009
After online row, CCHS gives strong Falsettos performance without protest
Concord Carlisle High School (CCHS) made history on Friday, December 11, when it premiered the Tony-award winning musical Falsettos for the first time ever at a public high school. The show stirred up controversy due to its weighty themes, including relationships, divorce, homosexuality and AIDS. However, there were no protestors visible at any of the three performances and the production was met with overwhelming support from members of the community.
Falsettos revolves around the lives of Marvin (played by Carlisle resident Zander Ansara) and Trina. The two are recently divorced due to Marvin’s coming out, and they struggle to raise their 12-year-old son, Jason, together. Meanwhile, Marvin grapples with his relationship with his lover, Whizzer, and Trina explores a romance with Marvin’s psychiatrist, Mendel. Marvin’s lesbian neighbors Dr. Charlotte and Cordelia aid along the way as they too wrestle with their own relationship.
Director Peter Atlas, a Math teacher at CCHS, chose to put on the show after he was asked to “fill a hole” in the schedule by former drama director Benjamin Kendall. According to Atlas, every three years the high school executes a demanding play for a smaller cast, and this was to be such a play. Thus, he searched for “a small ensemble show with a demanding but accessible score, whose themes would be interesting to adolescents and able to be performed by adolescents.” Said Atlas, Falsettos “fit the bill.”
Objections to the production arose in late November when Mass Resistance, a group calling themselves “the pro-family action center for Massachusetts,” alerted the readers of its newsletter to the production of what they called a “depraved homosexual musical” by CCHS. In the weeks leading up to the premier, Principal Peter Badalament fielded “numerous messages” protesting the musical, although he clarified that the vast majority of these complaints were from non-Concord-Carlisle residents, and that locals in fact sent him many letters of support. Atlas commended this community support, as well as that of the administration itself. “I’m very proud of them,” he said.
According to Badalament, an officer was hired by the school for the performances as standard security because of the cash box and they had “a contingency plan if protesters did show up.” In addition, Concord Deputy Police Chief Barry Neal said that there were officers available to assist with traffic control and help the school escort any disruptive persons off the property, if that had been necessary.
Atlas downplayed the effect of the controversy on the production. He explained that regardless of the hot button issues presented in Falsettos, the ensemble’s concerns consisted of the typical thespian worries – memorizing lines, lyrics and blocking – rather than fears of protests. He felt that the cast handled the show’s mature themes “wonderfully” and “with sensitivity,” remarking with a laugh that it was “harder to get kids to understand Jewish than it [was] to get them to understand gay,” Judaism being another facet of Falsettos. In an interview with The Boston Globe, Ansara joked that “My friends don’t make fun of me for playing a gay character... They just make fun of me for being in a play.”
Ultimately, there was little doubt in Badalament’s mind that the show would go on. “I believe it is important for all of the students and parents from our communities to see themselves reflected in different ways throughout the school,” said Badalament. “There are gay students and parents who are members of our school community, so I have no problem with a play that has gay characters in it.”
© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito