A Catholic school stages a controversial play — and nothing happens

It happened in Manhattan recently.

Details, from the New York Times:

When Eric Ostrow was hired last year to teach drama at Xavier High School in Manhattan, as a newcomer he chose two impeccably innocuous shows for student productions. The first was a comedy, “Epic Proportions,” and then came the musical “Grease,” with its script scrubbed of profanity and one character’s unwed pregnancy papered over in euphemisms.

Xavier’s production of “The Laramie Project,” about the murder of a gay student, had the administration’s support.

Then, late last spring, Mr. Ostrow presented school administrators with his wish list for year two. It was to stage “The Laramie Project,” Moises Kaufman’s play about the murder of a gay college student, Matthew Shepard. And if Mr. Ostrow thought he might be shocking his bosses with the proposal, then he was soon shocked in return.

Not only did Xavier’s president and headmaster approve the plan for “Laramie,” they informed Mr. Ostrow that he was not exactly breaking new ground. Xavier had performed “Laramie” in the 2002-3 school year, standing by the production even amid some eye-rolling and grumbling among faculty members and parents and a smattering of picketing from fundamentalist Christians.

Last weekend, Mr. Ostrow’s cast performed the play three times to a total of 470 theatergoers. English and religion teachers gave their students extra credit to see “Laramie” and write responses. Parents who had initially quailed about their children being in the show gave standing ovations. Spectators bought hundreds of “Erase Hate” wristbands to benefit the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Nothing happened, which is a way of saying that everything happened. To use a Sherlock Holmes aphorism, this was the case of the dog that did not bark. The deep significance of Xavier’s production of “Laramie” — of a Catholic school doing a play with an H.I.V.-positive, bar-going gay man as the object of the audience’s empathy — is that it stirred about as much controversy as, say, “Our Town.”

“I’m thrilled we did it,” Jack Raslowsky, Xavier’s president, said in an interview this week. “It’s one of those plays that has the potential to be a springboard to discussion. If you do ‘The Mousetrap’ or ‘Brigadoon,’ you’re not going to be discussing issues of good and evil.”

Read the rest.


  1. Deacon Bill says:

    Dear Deacon Greg,

    It’s too early to say “and nothing happened.”

    I’ve never read or seen the play, but why would the subject matter be inappropriate for Catholic students?

    Perhaps it’s because I too am an educator, but I think the director and principal are making good points. Again, I don’t know anything about the content of the play itself, and perhaps it would NOT be appropriate. But certainly the subject matter seems terribly appropriate.

    So I hope a lot happens: a lot of reflection on violence, prejudice, and evil of all kinds. If these things can’t be discussed and debated safely within a school, where can they?

    God bless,


  2. Deacon David Ford says:

    Dear Deacon Greg:

    Thanks for posting this news. However, it’s not ‘new’ in Catholic High school performances. Our local boys Catholic High School in Sacramento, Jesuit High, put on this play a number of years ago and it was very well received, as it should be.

    To say “nothing happened” however in your story ‘header’ is perhaps misleading. For those who attend this story – most surely ‘lots’ happens in the hearts of those who attend and those who put it on. The ‘mirror’ of evil and hate toward one who is ‘different’ – which this play holds up – certainly calls Christians to a ‘different stance’ – the way of compassion, and non-judgement, love, and acceptance. As a minister of the Gospel, a deacon, like yourself, I think of the Jesus of the Gospels who invited “all” and whose greatest criticism was that he ‘hung around’ “tax collectors and sinners” – the most despised of his time.

    Hopefully, what ‘happens’ in this play, is a reminder of this call by Christ to stand with those who are despised by society and to love them. To stand against hate and evil.

    Thanks again for bringing this to your blog, Greg.

    Deacon David Ford
    Diocese of Sacramento

  3. I’m disturbed that Grease is always seen as an innocuous play. I haven’t seen the play, but I’ve seen the movie. It’s really pretty immoral.

  4. What disturbs me most is that these days literature is not taught because it is beautiful, but because it is politically correct. It looks like times in the socialist countries where plays were written for the sake of “educating the people”.

  5. ron chandonia says:

    Teresa’s point is exactly right. In colleges and now in high schools (where grads from those colleges teach), we have turned humanities classes and related activities (including our school plays) into venues for spreading whatever seems trendy today. Parents who question a decision like staging this play are likely to meet with a putdown: “I suppose you think it was OK for those bullies to torture and murder a harmless guy whose sexuality was different from their own!” To that, what can they say?

    Then will come yet another survey showing that the vast majority of our Catholic school grads see no problem with homosexuality, support same-sex marriage, and regard Church teaching on the matter was old-fashioned, and we will wonder how that can be–after all that money we spent on tuition.

  6. Deacon John M. Bresnahan says:

    With American education results sinking like a rock in many international surveys, it is amazing how American schools, including Catholic ones, are able to so enthusiastically pat themselves on the back for all the time they spend on the latest politically correct propaganda. There are certainly plays out there that would truly educate–like Robert Bolt’s “A Man For All Seasons.” Or, God Forbid, a Shakespeare production.
    And it is sickening to see Catholic education caricature the opposition to modern fanatically promoted modes of sin as “hate and evil.” Wasn’t it the great Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton (who most Catholic school students probably have never heard of) that stated one of the virtues of the Catholic Church is that it protects people from the degrading spectacle of becoming children of their own time.
    Now that there are some court cases in New York using homosexual advances as rationals for defending incest–will that bring a wave of pro-incest plays to Catholic schools which idol worship at secular altars? Musn’t be out-of-step with today’s zeitgeist.

  7. This article was excellent. Our local university put on this play and it was excellent. It is wonderful that these students put on this play. I remember when Matthew Shepard was killed and was truly horrified by the hateful demonstrators and their obscene signs. I didn’t really know that “Christian” people like this exist. I was thankful that for the most part Catholics didn’t feel like that and that for the most part Catholics are tolerant and accepting of gays and other minorities. (Sadly since then I have discovered that some Catholics do favor discrimination towards gay people.) This play is a sad story and I agree with what Deacon Bill and Deacon David have said.

  8. Obviously, by saying “nothing happened” is to say that all the work done to de-sensitive all of us to the reality of the homosexuality is working.
    We all have friends/relatives who are active homosexuals, just as we probably have friends who are actively addicted to pornagraphy or actively cheating on their spouses. They have an unrequitted sense of searching for happiness, completeness, peace with themselves and their choices.
    We also have friends/relatives who are fighting the good fight against their lower tendencies (All of us, to some degree…) within the context of faith, grace, prayer, sacraments, community support.
    It is my opinion, that when Jesus ate with sinners (like myself), he did so in order to call us to conversion to Him, to true love of God, ourselves and of others, and to communion with those who have chosen the way of Jesus. ( A way full of falls and darkness and full of light and surrender.)
    So in my opinion, that a Catholic High School, put on this play can certainly be a good thing when there truly is honest and truth searching teaching to go along with it.
    Simply accepting a behavior and a lifestyle as “OK” with everyone leads to a slippery slope.
    And for the record, what happened to Matthew Sheppard was absolutely wrong and he did not deserve it, no matter what his lifestyle.

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