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Free Speech Group Asks Brandeis To Explain Or Reverse Cancellation Of Play

A sign marks the entrance of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. in 2010. (Josh Reynolds/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
A sign marks the entrance of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. in 2010. (Josh Reynolds/AP)

A group describing its members as free speech advocates has written a letter to the Brandeis University president asking to either explain the decision behind the recent cancellation a play or to continue with the production.

The play, "Buyer Beware," was written by prolific playwright Michael Weller, a 1965 graduate of Brandeis, for the school's Department of Theater Arts. It is described by the Brandeis student newspaper, The Hoot, as dealing with the contemporary protest movement at the university.

The play was scheduled to be staged this fall semester until students opposed the production, in part because they believed many of the characters were reduced to stereotypes. Some students called the play racist.

In response to Monday's letter calling on the university to explain, a Brandeis spokesperson referred to a Nov. 6 statement that says "the play will not be performed on campus because of Mr. Weller's decision to produce it professionally elsewhere."

Weller had previously told WBUR the school did not consult him before canceling the production. He said students have misread his play and should wait to see it staged before judging it.

The letter was written by FIRE, the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which describes its mission as defending civil liberties on campuses.

Among the signatories is Kitty Bruce, daughter of the late comedian Lenny Bruce, whose archives are at Brandeis and whose work is the subject of the canceled play. In the 1960s, Bruce was prosecuted for obscenity for using words commonly used by performing artists today. He was the last comedian to be criminally prosecuted for obscenity in the United States, according to the letter.

Weller's first play, "Moonchildren," about his experiences at Brandeis, earned him a Drama Desk award for Outstanding New Playwright. He went on to write many other plays and screenplays, including the screenplay for the 1979 movie adaptation of "Hair." The university is honoring him with its Creative Arts Award in January.

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Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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