Maryland School Cancels Spring Play, ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,’ Over Gay Characters

'Let the kids perform!'

the longfellow middle school auditorium in madison wisconsin
Meredith Scheimpflug / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0 Aaron Homer)

'Let the kids perform!'

A Maryland middle school abruptly canceled its spring play, and parents and kids aren’t satisfied with the answers they’re getting from school officials. It seems some kids and parents think the play was canceled because it contains gay characters.

As Washington’s WJLA-TV reports, Hyattsville Middle School was to put on The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee on May 2. That is until parents received a letter stating that the production had been abruptly canceled, with no clear reasons being given.

At a closed-door school board meeting this week, in which TV cameras weren’t allowed, the answers parents got from school officials were far from satisfactory. The general sense attendees were given was that there were vague concerns about profanity and sexual innuendo in the play.

Parent Jamie McGonnigal, who has seen the play, confirms that the play contains words such as “damn” and profane utterances of the words “Jesus Christ,” as well as a somewhat vulgar song, “My Unfortunate Erection.” However, the agency that owns the rights to the play and licenses it for public performance says that the school is free to excise the naughty language and change the song to “My Unfortunate Distraction.”

Parent Robert Kapler isn’t buying the claim that it was purported vulgarity that doomed the play. He says that his daughter told him that the play was canceled because “there are gay dads in it,” and he’s inclined to believe her.

Similarly, McGonnigal is convinced that the play was nixed because of gay characters.

“I have no doubt in my mind that the fact that there are gay parents in the show is one of the primary reasons for the cancellation here. And when we asked pointedly if that was one of the reasons, they said they could not say.”

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a 2005 Broadway comedy about a spelling bee in Putnam County in a non-specific state. Six “quirky adolescents” and three “quirky grown-ups” round out the main cast, and audience members are invited onto the stage to “participate” in the competition.

One of the adolescent characters, Logainne “Schwarzy” SchwartzandGrubenierre, has two overbearing gay dads who push her to win at all costs.

The play is full of jokes, many based on bizarre usage of the words the kids are supposed to spell. For example, when a participant is asked to spell “palaestra,” the emcee uses the example sentence, “Euripides says, ‘what happens at the palaestra, stays at the palaestra.'”

The licensing agency says that the play is intended more for a high school audience, but that it has licensed its use for junior high schools as well. An R-rated, adults-only version is also occasionally performed on Broadway or in community theater.

Meanwhile, Hyattsville school officials said in a statement that, moving forward, they will more closely examine the scripts of any plays before approving them.