Theater offensive?

Eff bombing at the ART
By MIKE MILIARD  |  April 26, 2007

Every night, prior to his monologue Invincible Summer, which runs at the American Repertory Theatre (ART) in Harvard Square through April 29, Mike Daisey says the audience is warned. He paraphrases: “Ladies and gentlemen, this show will be performed in the patois and idiom of New York City. Turn your fucking cell phones off or we’ll shove them so far up your ass you’ll never find them again.”

Point taken. But last Thursday night, Daisey, sitting at a spare table onstage with just a glass of water and a handwritten outline, was flabbergasted when, during a segment of the soliloquy about “fucking Paris Hilton,” a group of 87 students and chaperones from Southern California’s Norco High School, who’d been in Boston for a choral competition, simultaneously got up and filed out of the theater. As they did, one parent chaperone punctuated their exodus by pouring a bottle of water all over Daisey’s notes, destroying them.

At Daisey’s Web site, you can see a video of the aquatic assault, and see the look on his rubbery expressive face. (Bemused, then appalled.) Daisey writes incredulously of the students’ egress, “like a flock of birds who’d been startled, the way they all moved so quickly, and at the same moment,” and the chaperone’s defacement of his work, “drenching everything in a kind of anti-baptism.”

“It was pretty terrible,” says Daisey. “The look on [the chaperone’s] face was very shocking: an intense look of hatred and complete arrogance. Complete pride. Total knowledge of righteousness.” Daisey’s transgression, he discovered later after tracking down the chaperone by phone — at the ART, he’d pleaded fruitlessly to have a dialogue with the departing crowd — was his use of R-rated language.

The ART’s Katalin Mitchell says that prior to purchasing a block of tickets, someone with the Norco group had called the theater inquiring about the monologue’s appropriateness for high schoolers. She was informed that it contained “very strong language” and “adult situations.” Nevertheless, Mitchell says, “when the f-word started flying, the parent chaperones and teachers basically just pulled out the kids and made an exit en masse. On their way out, they said they were a Christian high school.” (Cindy Lee, Norco High’s activities director, did not return a call seeking comment for this article.)

Daisey’s phone call with the chaperone was instructive, however. The man apologized, and confessed to having anger-management issues. He also talked about his children. “He still finds himself really frightened by the world, and everything that’s in it,” Daisey says. “The language, the violence, everything. His reaction to the world is to shut it out, to keep it from his children. I told him I thought there was a connection between this repression, just forcing everything down, and a violent outburst like this.”

Does Daisey think the episode could be fodder for a future monologue? “It’s hard to say. The element that I’m turning over and over in my head is that [Lee and the chaperone] were insistent: they didn’t want to talk about it being a freedom-of-speech issue; they just kept talking about how it was a safety issue. And they just kept repeating it: ‘We had to get our kids out of there. It was a safety issue.’ I think it’s amazing that the language of the war on terror has filtered down so far that you can declare anything a safety and security issue.”

Another Daisey monologue, Monopoly!, runs at the American Repertory Theatre May 1 through 5.

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