Breakfast in the Big City

by Brendan Kiley

The kids from the Kennewick High School Drama Department successfully brought their banned Breakfast Club to Consolidated Works last weekend, accidentally achieving in a few weeks what many Seattle theater artists have been trying to do for years--packing houses and living in the center of a brief, but intense, media melee.

The production was more thought-provoking than I expected. Watching the kids work through the play, I was struck by how inappropriately adult Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and the rest of the movie cast compared to their Kennewick counterparts. The real teenagers mumbled, shrugged, and shuffled across the stage--just like we all did in high school. "There's always something that gets lost in the polish of professionalism," said ConWorks executive director Matthew Richter. That something can be simple enunciation, but it can also be a production's soul.

The installation pieces currently in the ConWorks gallery complemented the performance. Beres, Culler, and Sutton's giant chest of drawers, sawed-off van end, and photos of street performance implied strange stories behind the individual works of art. Likewise, The Breakfast Club was meta- theater at its finest, with its most potent tension lodged in the drama behind the drama.

That media frenzy was a PR gift to ConWorks. "This is the first time we've had three news stations, two radio stations, and all four Seattle newspapers jump on us at the same time," Richter said. The story was too good to pass up--a provincial and petty high-school principal banning his students' adaptation of a relatively tame 1985 movie about high school and, in a delicious twist, its stupid, petty dictator of a principal. Add a heroic Seattle arts space that brings the canned production to the big city and a wider audience than anyone had ever anticipated, and you've got a counterculture Cinderella.

But there is a story behind the story. Richter, who had been saying "censorship is not the death of discourse" in interviews, has, upon reflection, reconsidered his position.

"In fact, censorship is usually the death of discourse," he said. "This event is an anomaly." For every voice that is amplified because of its prohibition, thousands just pass into silence. It's worth contemplating why this particular story aroused so much interest. Perhaps it was the irony of high schoolers being censored for doing a play about censured high schoolers. Perhaps it was the idiocy (or hypocrisy) of a principal who could be "shocked and dismayed" by a relatively tame depiction of high-school life circa 1985. That The Breakfast Club is a beloved movie about white kids from the 'burbs probably didn't hurt--I doubt an original one-sophomore show titled Fuck Whitey and His Bitch Jesus would have won as much public sympathy.