South Hadley’s Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School (PVPA), has received numerous protests against its upcoming production of The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, a satirical play written by Paul Rudnick in 1998 that retells the story of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, with gay characters. PVPA, has refused to cancel the play and will proceed as planned to showcase The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told at the Academy of Music in Northampton on March 15, 16 and 17.
PVPA is “a regional public charter school serving 400 students in grades 7-12, from over 60 towns throughout Western Massachusetts,” according to its website. The website details the school’s mission statement to provide students with the means to learn through the arts with multiple learning styles in a supportive yet challenging environment that fosters critical and creative thinking, all within a college preparatory curriculum. PVPA also offers “multiple options within the disciplines of dance, theatre, vocal and instrumental music, technical theatre and visual arts.”
“I suggested this play for production in PVPA’s main stage season because I believe it has an important message for our time, one that’s slowly gaining acceptance across the country,” stated Chris Rohmann, director of the play.
This production, however, crossed the line in the eyes of many community members, gaining itself protesters who labelled it blasphemous. The petition online to stop the production of this play, titled “A Vile Insult to the Mother of God: Protest Now!” on America Needs Fatima (a website that aims to spread what it perceives to be the message of Mary) has 13,067 signatures claiming that The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told “[offends] the religious faith of tens-of-millions of Catholic and other Christian Americans” by “allowing this attack on the Mother of God.”
Rohmann, however, refutes such claims. While recognizing that the basis of opposition comes from people who believe that the play blasphemes Mary, mother of Jesus, he clarified that “Mary is not a character in the piece [and] there is [only] a metaphorical ‘immaculate conception’ and a parallel to the Nativity, both of which are presented respectfully.”
PVPA’s theater department director Mike Arquilla supports the decision to produce the play. “[The play] is an excellent example of contemporary satire and very useful in our students’ academic study,” he said. “The play is irreverent by nature, providing commentary and constructive social criticism through wit, irony and exaggeration.”
Scott Goldman, principal of PVPA, went on to speak about his hopes for the play. “We hope the play raises important questions about the intersection of politics and faith,” he said. “The play, as currently conceived, is consistent with our school’s philosophy and is, in our view, an appropriate theater piece for PVPA high school actors and a high school and adult audience.”
Rohmann agreed with Goldman. “The show is cheeky and irreverent, yes, but not, I believe, blasphemous. Notwithstanding the comedic spin, it’s really quite a sympathetic view of religion,” he said.
Yet critics of the performance, mostly from out of state, have phoned the school and threatened to protest at the venue during the show’s run. Though no threats of violence were made, Principal Goldman said in a letter sent home with students that PVPA has contacted Northampton Police Department to implement a safety plan during the show to ensure student and public safety.
The Academy of Music’s Executive Director Debra J’Anthony has also revealed that the theater itself received emails of objection, but she claims that “[they’re] getting an outpouring of support” from people who will firmly attend the show.
“I would not have suggested this show for PVPA—or anywhere else—if I thought it was about trashing religion or mocking belief,” states Rohmann. “It’s quite the opposite, and that’s what convinced me that it’s an important play to produce [because] by presenting a mirror image of what’s ‘normally normal,’ it makes a very powerful statement about equality.”