It was Feb.18 and the Playhouse was hosting a public reading of Glyn O'Malley's Paradise, a play about two West Bank teenage girls, one Jewish and one Palestinian, as part of their educational outreach program. An audience of 430 people attended the reading, but these shadow men of influence leaned close to one another so their whispers wouldn't reach inappropriate ears. They shook loose hands and feigned warm greetings.
They're surface-level, upstanding professionals. Some are even religious leaders, men of various cloths. I watched and listened to their clandestine chitchat from my seat, looking up at the Marx Theater lights so as not to appear interested.
The Playhouse cabal was on a mission to prevent the theater from presenting Paradise at area high schools. Some of these shadow men feel that Paradise is too intense for high-school children, despite claims to the contrary from Playhouse Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern and Education Director Bert Goldstein. The cabal are passionate in their beliefs, and they won't take no for an answer, even from a veteran theater administrator like Stern.
There are winds of war swirling throughout America these days, and the Muslim community is facing intense discrimination from many fronts. U.S. politicians toss around words like "internment camps," clueless to their offensive meaning. The U.S. government has ordered a detailed count of all U.S. mosques. Homeland security has become a reason for racial profiling of Muslim-Americans.
Civil liberties are eroding and sidewalk discrimination is increasing. Regarding justice and truth, there are numerous battles for justice ahead. Here in Cincinnati, while the rest of the world draws sides for or against America's impending war with Iraq, we battle over a play about two teenage girls. Have our misplaced priorities ever looked more foolish?
Robert "Chip" Harrod is the soft-spoken and levelheaded executive director of the National Conference for Community and Justice for the Greater Cincinnati region. He facilitated the Feb. 18 reading, and he remains happy with the results.
"My feeling is that most people who had the opportunity to read the play or attend the Feb. 18 reading feel that it's a professional production," Harrod said, speaking recently. "Of course, it depends who you talk to."
He spoke frequently with the Playhouse cabal the night of the Paradise reading. He gathered them close and listened intently to their words. He paid them reverence, which is something shadow men enjoy and expect. The rest of the Paradise crowd were handed note cards and instructed to write down their comments. At center stage, the cabal held a meeting with the facilitator of the reading. From my seat, it became clear who was calling the shots over whether the Playhouse would or would not stage Paradise for high-school students, and it wasn't Stern.
For now, I'm not going to identify this cabal. I'll leave them to their shadow games, because I want to see what they do next. My understanding is that some of them are parents, and they don't want their high-school children to watch Paradise. That's fair. Parents have the right to make decisions regarding their own children.
However, I'm not convinced that they should be allowed to speak for all Cincinnati families. The shadow men could have asked for their children to be excused from watching Paradise because the subject matter might upset them. They could keep their children home from school that day. They have the right to express their concerns. They don't have the right to make artistic decisions for the Playhouse ... from the shadows, or anywhere else.
There are many legitimate concerns for American Muslims today. Paradise is not one of them.