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University cancels play accused of criticizing Black Lives Matter

Brandeis University received complaints over its content

Following a flood of complaints, Brandeis University has scrapped plans for the performance of a controversial play on its campus accused of being critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The private university announced recently that it had cancelled plans to present the play “Buyer Beware” on its campus after students and alumni complained the production “seeks to vilify” black voices and issued concerns because its script includes a white protagonist who uses the n-word as part of a comedy routine.

Complaints over its content have pushed the play off campus, with an alumnus calling the play “overtly racist” and an outspoken student saying it elevated “the already privileged voice of a white man on the matter of Black Lives Matter protests.”

Instead, the university said it will offer a course this spring that “will engage directly with a variety of controversial works of art” and “address difficult topics.”

The play, a work of fiction, chronicles the pushback stemming from a student’s plan to perform a controversial comedy bit on the Brandeis campus. It was written by famous playwright and Brandeis alumnus Michael Weller. The playwright researched and drafted the play’s script during a residency appointment at Brandeis in 2016.

The play is now slated to be performed at a yet-to-be-announced professional venue, according to the university.

In a statement provided to The College Fix, Brandeis said the production’s cancellation was a “mutual and amicable decision.”

“Following open and productive conversations between [Weller] and faculty from the Theater department and the Division of Creative arts, together we decided to engage with the play through a rigorous, team-taught course next semester, while [Weller] will premiere the play in a professional venue,” the university said in its statement.

According to The Brandeis Hoot, “Buyer Beware” “deals with the modern atmosphere of college protest movements” and its plot revolves around a white Brandeis student named Ron who plans to perform a stand-up routine on campus “in the style of Lenny Bruce.” Bruce was a famous 20th-century comedian and satirist known for his provocative style and use of obscenities.

“In the play, a white college student wants to use the n-word in a comedy routine, which spurs on a national movement for Black Lives Matter,” according to The Hoot.

Ron, the main character, also faces the ire of a university administration that says it’ll punish the student “with academic probation in hopes he will cancel his performance so that student protests do not fall on the same night that a wealthy alum” makes a trip to campus.

“At the climax of the play Ron performs and students protest,” according to The Hoot.

Students and alumni rallied against the play, reaching out to administrators and faculty members to express their anger over its content.

Ayelet Schrek, a recent graduate of Brandeis, organized an email and phone call campaign protesting the play’s performance on campus.

A description for a Facebook page promoting the campaign argued the play “positions a white man as the brave protagonist and a black man (and [Black Lives Matter]) as the over-reacting, violent antagonist.”

In an email to theater professor Bob Walsh, Schrek said the university was promoting the story of “a white man justifying racism.”

“This play must not happen at Brandeis (or anywhere). I will personally do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t,” Schrek said in the email, which was provided to The College Fix.

Another outspoken critic of the play included Brandeis student Andrew Child, an undergraduate departmental representative for the theater department. Child sent multiple letters to the Brandeis administration regarding his concerns over “Buyer Beware” and its planned presentation on campus.

In one letter, which Child posted on Facebook, he said the play “seeks to vilify the voices of black students expressing dissent.”

“In choosing to elevate the already privileged voice of a white man on the matter of Black Lives Matter protests, we, as a university, are taking up space in a way that invites unnecessary and unproductive backlash,” he said in the letter.

In an email to The College Fix, Child said he’s glad the university has ditched the play and described it as “an old man’s diagnosis and attack of young people and how we engage with each other and interact with unjust situations.”

He said calls for Brandeis to cancel the play weren’t calls for censorship.

“There was constant fear about being accused of censorship, which is difficult,” he said. “However, saying that it may be unwise to present a particular piece of art at a certain time in a certain place is not censorship.”

Weller has yet to respond to an email sent Tuesday from The College Fix to weigh in on the matter.

MORE: Three in four Brandeis conservatives are in the political closet

MORE: Brandeis threatens student journalists for invading ‘safe space’

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About the Author
Nathan Rubbelke served as a staff reporter for The College Fix with a specialty on investigative and enterprise reporting from 2017 to 2018. He has also held editorial positions at The Commercial Review daily newspaper in Portland, Indiana, as well as at The Washington Examiner, Red Alert Politics and St. Louis Public Radio. Rubbelke graduated from Saint Louis University, where he majored in political science and sociology.