, Salem, MA


March 29, 2014

School officials swing the razor of censorship

One of the themes of the great American musical “Sweeney Todd” is how petty tyrants abuse their power to rob others of their rights, turning their victims and society at large mad.

That is precisely why the Timberlane Players ought to perform “Sweeney Todd” — with Timberlane, N.H., School District administrators and officials strapped into front-row seats.

“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd ...”

Alas, that is apparently not to be.

Timberlane officials have taken it upon themselves to cancel the 2015 production of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, because the script made School Superintendent Earl Metzler and other officials “uncomfortable,” to use Metzler’s word.

No, we can’t have art that makes anyone uncomfortable, especially officials.

Even a teensy bit uncomfortable. The Players planned to produce the school edition of the musical, a PG-13 version specially adapted by Sondheim to make it suitable for high schoolers and people like Metzler.

Disappointed student actors and parents are hoping to reverse the decision. Metzler has promised a public forum on the issue at some point — after the decision has been made.

Why not have the forum first, then make a decision, you ask?

To quote the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland,” another great work of art that touches on the connection between the abuse of power and madness, “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”

Also, quoth the queen, “Off with their heads!”

Which is what Metzler threatened when unhappy students started a Facebook page to protest the censorship.

The students were advised to kill it or face the consequences: “suspension, expulsion or even legal consequences.”

“This is not about free speech,” Metzler claimed.

Of course not. It never is.

“Those students are free to let us know what they feel about things,” Metzler said. “But it does not give them the right to be rude and disrespectful.”

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