Parents ask court to cancel two Henderson school's play productions


Some parents are asking the courts to evict the plays, "Rent" and "The Laramie Project," from the theater of Green Valley High School in Henderson.

The parents are seeking a preliminary injunction in district court that would cancel the performances of two plays with homosexual characters and the theme of social tolerance. They argue that since they object to the adult content, their own kids are essentially excluded from participation in the school's theater program.

The controversy has divided the suburban campus as other parents and students protest a perceived threat of censorship.

The school's theater season's theme is "Controversy, Compassion, Courage" as "The Laramie Project" deals with the brutal slaying of a gay college student in Wyoming and "Rent" is about starving artists coping with drug addiction and AIDS.

Cory Hilton, the lawyer for the parents objecting to the plays, acknowledged he has not seen the script for either school production but said he is more concerned about process than the content.

He is afraid of the "slippery slope" that might come if school officials do not follow Clark County School District procedures for presenting controversial subject matter to students.

He said school district regulations do not allow "R" rated material to be presented to students and parents have a right to weigh in with their opinion if the content is PG-rated.

Michael Rodriguez, a District spokesman, said Hilton was confusing the district's policy of showing movies in school with school plays. Movies, unlike theater performances, can be compulsory viewing as part of the curriculum. Participation in the plays is voluntary and requires parental permission.

Sarah Balogh, 17, a senior who plays the lesbian character Maureen in "Rent," a musical, appreciates that her school can be gutsy.

"We were the first high school to start drug testing (of students)," she said. "We deal with problems head on."

"The Laramie Project" was presented on Oct. 12 on the 11th anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard, the subject of the play. It's scheduled to be presented again Nov. 12-14.

"Rent" is scheduled for performances in late January and early February.

The actors say the school has been accused of trying to push a political agenda.

"That's definitely not what we're doing," said Samantha Ma, 15, an actor in "Rent."

School officials and students also note that both plays have been toned down for younger audiences.

"This is what people don't get. It's the high school edition," said Joshua Lovell, 16, who plays the principal character, Mark Cohen, in "Rent."

There is no illicit drug use and very limited "public displays of affection," Lovell said. "Some hugging, but no kissing," Lovell said.

Hilton, the lawyer, said he has the support of at least 100 parents from different backgrounds, religious and non-religious.

Hilton and Rick Magness, a parent of recent graduates, said families feel excluded because they find the content of the plays objectionable.

Neither Green Valley Principal Jeff Horn nor theater teacher Jennifer Hemme were available for comment Friday. Drama students said Horn selected the school plays.

In a letter to Hilton, Horn responded that the school has performed many plays in the past with controversial content. "Romeo and Juliet," for instance" dealt with teen suicide and betrayal of parents and "As You Like It" had some cross-dressing.

Balogh said "Rent" hardly glamorizes drug use or sexuality and the play instead shows the hardships the characters go through.

"Ultimately, it's about compassion and being there for someone," she said.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.

 

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