by Brendan Kiley

The Breakfast Club

Kennewick High School Drama Department at Consolidated Works

Fri-Sat Dec 19-20.

The Breakfast Club is the best movie director John Hughes ever made. The classic '80s parable of high-school authority and identity was one of the most important movies of its decade. Though it earned an R rating in 1985, its racy material--high-school students swearing, smoking a joint, and confessing their virginity--is hardly the stuff of hardened, 21st-century delinquency.

So it's laughable and staggeringly ironic that Kennewick High School Principal Jack Anderson cancelled his students' stage adaptation of the movie last month, days before it was set to open, calling its subject matter "inappropriate." Thank goodness for the free-speech lovers at Consolidated Works who are bringing the young actors and their prohibited performance to Seattle for an exclusive one-weekend engagement.

"Public discourse doesn't end at censorship," said Matthew Richter, executive director of Consolidated Works. "There is always a way around censorship and it's a duty of arts organizations to try and amplify censored voices."

Stranger performance editor David Schmader, who suggested the show to ConWorks after finding the cancellation story on news wires, imagined the banned Breakfast Club as a great theatrical installation piece. "I wanted to see what a bunch of high schoolers performing The Breakfast Club actually looked like," he said. "No one would be able to fake being a teenager better than an actual teenager."

Kennewick High School Principal Anderson, who refused to meet with the cast after his announcement, also refused comment for this story. School district spokesperson Rich Buel said Anderson squelched the play because its language "violated the district's zero-tolerance policy against weapons, drugs, and profanity."

Never mind that the script is far tamer than The Iliad or the Old Testament. The most blindingly bizarre element of this fiasco is how Principal Anderson could watch this dead-on satire of a principal-cum-petty dictator, and then act like one by canceling the production before a single person had complained about it.

That contemporary high-school students would even want to adapt and perform The Breakfast Club is a testament to how well it skewers high-school society. An engaging story about clique, class, and sexual politics, The Breakfast Club is a broad social allegory, articulating some of the most cutting-edge critical philosophy of its day.

As the 1980s progressed, universities across America buzzed with French names like Bourdieu, Bataille, and Baudrillard. The Breakfast Club, strangely enough, presents a real-world model of their theories.

Like the critical theorists' vision of prisons, factories, and schools, The Breakfast Club's detention hall is a training ground for submissive citizens. The principal wields the typical arsenal of administrative tyrants--strict schedules, fussy regulations, arbitrariness, and institutional authority--to assert power over his students.

The Breakfast Club argues that identity is the primary battlefield in the war for individual freedom. The principal demands an essay from each student: "1,000 words describing to me who you think you are." The movie's five characters came to detention as archetypical identities: a brain, a criminal, a basket case, a jock, and a princess. They believe in and play their assigned roles. As Brian the brain reflects, "We were brainwashed."

By the end of their disciplinary sojourn, the students have learned to defy the institution by shattering their received identities and forging new ones. As Brian writes in his 1,000-word essay to Principal Vernon, "You see us as you want to see us... But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?"

Overwrought analysis aside, The Breakfast Club is a hell of a lot of fun. So you've really got three good reasons to get your freedom-loving ass down to Consolidated Works this weekend: to see a John Hughes classic performed by real live high schoolers, to support the kids whose show got canned, and to let the Kennewick School District know that its profanity policy fucking sucks.

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