As a child in the 1960s I watched a quirky television program called “Hogan’s Heroes.” I watched with my dad a few times, and I remember how uncomfortable he was at first with a comedy that included uniforms adorned with swastikas.
I understood his unease because for a few years of his childhood in Europe, he lived under Nazi occupation. But after watching an episode or two, he picked up on the parody and the sarcasm. He loved how the Nazis were portrayed as buffoons, and he began to enjoy the program. He had his “I get it” moment.
I am writing this letter to respond to a May 7 letter to the editor in The News-Sentinel that was critical of the selection and recent performance of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” by the faculty and students of Northrop High School. The director, Tim Miller, went to great lengths to make it clear to the audience that the story is a parody written by Brooks to help him deal with the loss of his grandparents in a Nazi concentration camp.
But the author of the letter nonetheless found the performance religiously offensive, sexually suggestive and generally immoral. (Is it fair to express shock that in a musical about show business might address issues of greed and debauchery?) Ultimately the letter writer conflates the performance of an “edgy” musical with nothing less than the ruination of the public school system. Although she praises the children and faculty for the quality of the performance, she uses the choice of this musical as an indictment of public schools in favor of funneling tax dollars to religious and charter schools. This is terribly unfair to Northrop and to FWCS, and harkens to book-banning efforts of the past.
Students attend high school during very influential years as they mature into adulthood. In this time their understanding of the human condition matures as well. Often that understanding is molded by great art and literature. During my high school years I was exposed to Orwell, Twain, Shakespeare, Bradbury, Harper Lee, Hawthorne and many others. I am so grateful that most of these were required reading in the public schools I attended. Those authors were never demure in their discussions of politics, religion, sex, crime, greed and the dark side of human nature. Some authors approach these topics very stoically; others hit us right in the funny bone — just like Brooks.
“The Producers” is a time-tested and great American comedy. It won a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards on Broadway. I am proud that the administration, faculty and students of Northrop worked together to choose the play, support the play, rehearse endless hours on the play, and deliver an exemplary work of theatrical and musical art.
Unfortunately the author of that letter to the editor left at intermission and was deprived of the genius of Brooks in his ability to wrap up a story. Perhaps waiting to see the third act may have helped her cross into “I get it” territory, and perhaps her opinion of the public schools would not be so negative. We will never know.
George Sistevaris, board certified civil trial advocate, National Board of Trial Advocacy, registered Indiana civil mediator