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‘Buyer Beware’ strikes controversy, remains on fall production lineup

By Juliana An

Section: News

September 29, 2017

For up-to-date coverage of the “Buyer Beware” story, see The Hoot’s most recent article at this link.

After weeks of controversy, members of the theater department and administrators determined on Sept. 26 that “Buyer Beware,” a play by Brandeis alum, Michael Weller ’65 will be rescheduled for the spring semester.

Concerned students and faculty decided, after multiple group meetings, that the play will be performed on campus, but that it will become part of a course offered during the spring semester.

The course “will explore the provocative issues raised in the play and provide an educational context for the work. In order to accommodate this coursework and the planning needed, performance of the play is being rescheduled from November to the spring. We are working with Michael on a precise date for the performance that fits his schedule,” wrote Susan Dibble, Interim Theater Department Chair.

Weller wrote Buyer Beware as a modern rendition of his famous first play, “Moonchildren.” “Moonchildren,” which appeared on Broadway in the 1970s, captures the mood of college students’ protests in the 1960s against the Vietnam War. “Buyer Beware” deals with the modern atmosphere of college protest movements at Brandeis. 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.

Andrew Child ’18, a Theatre Arts Department UDR and member of the season “play selection committee,” sent a letter to President Liebowitz articulating his concerns about the nature of the play. He later posted the letter to Facebook to raise awareness. “In presenting Buyer Beware, a play which seeks to vilify the voices of black students expressing dissent, Brandeis makes a clear statement about its priorities,” he wrote.

Child explained that the play includes uncomfortable messages about the nature of protests and fails to meet diversity requirements set by the season search committee. “The way that Black Lives Matter is presented and addressed as dramatic elements acts as the antagonizing force. It’s a negative way to present [Black Lives Matter], and the happy ending is that [the movement] is silenced…The issue we all have with it is that [Weller] is an older, straight-gendered, able-bodied, and white man. It isn’t his place to be stirring the pot,” said Child in a phone interview.

New to the theatre department is that a “season selection committee” is in charge of selecting the plays for this fall’s production lineup. The committee consists of representatives from the theatre faculty, representatives from the theatre staff, and one student. Buyer Beware, however, disrupted normal selection procedures as it was not selected by this committee.

Michael Weller was awarded the Brandeis Creative Arts Award in 2015. With a purpose to recognize the works of American artists, this award was established in 1956 for artists in the fields of music, theatre and visual arts. In exchange for the award, artists devote their time to helping students of the arts on campus, which led to Weller writing Buyer Beware.

Tony Arnold, the 2015 recipient in music, helped students earn internships in the field of music and provided music lessons on campus. Weller, the 2017 recipient, was commissioned in 2015 to write Buyer Beware for Brandeis’ theatre department after receiving the award.

Child, a member of the season selection committee, wrote in a Facebook post, “I am not asking to censor or silence this production. I am simply stating with certainty that it does not have a home in Brandeis’ Theatre Arts Department right now.”

The status of Buyer Beware has been in flux of the past week. In response to student concerns, a group met to discuss the situation on Sept. 20. Attendees included several faculty members, Susan Dibble (interim department chair), Adrianne Krstansky (past chair), Dr. Mark Brimhall-Vargas, Chief Diversity Officer, Gannit Ankori (FA), two members of the Student Union and theatre arts majors.

“[The meeting] was really productive because we need to be more upfront and candid about what’s going on,” said Child. “It’s a difficult situation because we want to honor Michael Weller, but everyone is unfortunately upset about the play he wrote.” A second meeting about a week later resulted in the decision to perform the play in the spring.

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