In placing the rubber stamp of official censorship on the Harvard Dramatic Club's play, "Fiesta", the Boston city authorities have adduced evidence to bolster the suspicion of their fair-minded intelligence in matters which they say affect public morality. Their action clicked with that quick efficiency which is prompted by eagerness, or at least by a thorough relish of the job.
Saturday is a half-holiday, and perhaps for that reason there was no time for parley. On the word of three members of the Cambridge police force--that they were the dramatic experts of that organization goes without saying--John M. Casey, who issues the thoushalt-nots to the citizens of Boston, decided that the performance was "unfit for presentation". To communicate this decision to the Mayor's office was the work of one moment, and to publish the prohibition of the play of another.
So rapid was the movement in official circles that officers of the Dramatic Club, consulting with counsel, had no opportunity to offer the book of the play to the authorities for discussion. Newspaper extras announcing the censorship of the production were on the streets before counsel for the club had approached the city fathers.
The statement of the police who were the only representatives to view the play objected only to "some of the dialogue." That deletion of "some of the dialogue" might have rendered the play fit for presentation does not appear to have occurred to Mr. Casey. This method is generally followed in the case of professional plays that bring objectional lines to the Boston stage. Perhaps it makes a difference who is producing the play.
The Dramatic Club must have had the city pretty thoroughly, scared. The authorities would not allow the play to go on uncensored, for fear of consequences which must be cataclysmic, since they are unnamed, and they were afraid, according to Mr. Casey, that the actors would not abide by any alterations in the text, but shoot the whole works, in defiance of agreement. There is, apparently, no trust in the mart of decency.
There is no absolute to which the question of morality in the drama can be referred. Overacting joined to broad dialogue may be offensive to public taste, but theatre-goers are less impressionable than they were, and the effective powers of a play have been exaggerated. Where possibility of offense is confined to isolated lines of dialogue, sweeping censorship argues high susceptibility on the part of the audience which would view the performance. Why the audiences of "Fiesta" should be more receptive than those which attend shows in other parts of the city is problematical.
The Dramatic Club has had its "Fiesta" butchered to make a holiday for the newspapers. The fact depends from a habit of policy whose ultimate conclusion has long been obvious. When the advantages of sinning in the eyes of official Boston have so often been demonstrated, imitation is not far behind.
The choice of the Dramatic Club for the last few years has fallen upon the colorful and exotic. Beyond the chance that this offers for rich presentation, it has led to sensationalism and the rewards which sensationalism brings. The desire to do things in a big way has brought professional sideshows whose performers have been billed in type several points larger than the Harvard Dramatic Club itself. The attractiveness of this program has been registered at the box office too often to be doubted.
Acknowledging the full legitimacy of the headline appeal, one may yet question the happiness of the selection that gave it birth. The growing impetus of the sensationalist movement has reached its logical goal. There are many who while condemning the course taken by what had become inevitable action, still regret the policy which has given that action its excuse.