Thirty years ago, as an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, I wrote a play: A Stone’s Throw. The full-length drama was about the dilution of the human spirit forged against the willful hard-edge of moral exhumation — but my production quickly became known on campus as “That Abortion Play.” You may download an early draft of “A Stone’s Throw” on this Boles.com Prairie Voice Archive Scripts page; and here some of the reviews of the production.
The UNL Department of Theatre Arts & Dance produced A Stone’s Throw, and it was the school’s first original entry into the American College Theatre Festival. There were several graduate students involved in the production who credited their work on the play to complete the technical portion of their Master of Fine Arts degree.
I was the first UNL undergraduate to have an original play produced as part of an official university theatre season. A Stone’s Throw created a lot of firsts, and made history — but if I’d written that same play today — it would never be produced, or received, with the same honor or enthusiasm.
Lincoln, Nebraska in 1986 was an intellectual hub and an aesthetic haven. You could have both a liberal mindset and a conservative morality and nobody cared — today, you have to be one thing and one thing only — now, and for the rest of your life.
Back then, in 1986 Nebraska, if you could imagine something grand, you had friends and cohorts who would stand beside you and help make something real and uncullable out of that thoughtful ether.
The university was strong and still reasonably well-fed by the Unicameral, and bon-vivant-war-hero — Bob “The Love Gov: Fluff Up Your Pillow and Dream About It” Kerrey — lived in the Governor’s mansion and brought a delightful sense of predestined righteousness and honor-in-purpose to a blue collar, company, town.
A Stone’s Throw was a multi-level play with emotion and danger running like rivulets through the cascading drama. The play was about poverty, and women’s rights, an incurable family dynamic, and — at its root — incest, love, and abortion in the public square of a condemning community.
There were no bright lines.
Everything was a miserable grey with no escape into the light.
The dramatic peak of the play was what amounted to an on-stage abortion — or was it, really?
Are we our fantasies, or do our fantasies become us?
Every performance of the play was sold-out, except for one curious exception.
The cast and crew had been told one of our weekend performances had been purchased by an “out-of-state theatre group” who wanted to see the play and hold an after-show conversation about the intricacies of Public Health and Human Welfare with the cast and crew.
The head of operations for the theatre department made the reservation, pre-selling the performance, but she didn’t get a deposit, or a confirmation from the group that they were actually who they said they were.
The night of the private performance, the theatre sat empty. It took a long while for anyone to realize nobody was going to show up for the show. It took even longer for us to comprehend we’d been had by some, unnamed, cowardly, anti-abortion group who had conned the department into giving them all the seats in the theatre with no upfront money.
The greatest thing about being a Nebraskan at that time, was this simple, reliable, truth — your word was your guaranteeing morality, and if you agreed to something you did it. That well-know fact of state was wittingly exploited by a dim religious agenda looking not to shed light, but rather to cover us in evil. The goodness of the department, trusting and kind, was what made the exploitation ripe, and the school, and the cast and crew, were never so unwary again.
That loss of moral innocence may please some, but for me, it was an unnecessary end heralding an evolutionary rising storm swirling around personal privacy and the public curb — and it put a social chill on the university for ever wanting to attempt to produce such a humanly confounding play, again.
As chaos and disappointment descended — the decision was made to go ahead and perform the show anyway — for an empty theatre; together, we could not be defeated. We also hit the streets of Lincoln and the hallways on campus to find people to come and see the show for free. Cast and crew called their friends and asked them to stand with us and watch the show in solidarity.
In the end, the play had half a crowd, but a wholly enthusiastic one, and we overcame the rottenness of a selfish and polarizing politicalization of a theatrical event. The only sad part of the evening was that performances meant box office — tickets sold — and the department was out a bunch of money for next season’s budget due to the nefarious ruse of those we shall never awaken again.
One, odd, residual, toxic-aching is how the protest booking of the play was not covered in the local press. There was no campus outrage. There were no counter-protests promoting free speech. The whole deceit was swallowed as if nothing happened, and there are only a few of us still around who remember precisely how we were censored. Today, there would be chanting and riots in the streets — and an actual live stoning of the cast on stage by Homeland terror activists lying in wait in the audience!
The nastiness of the anti-abortion plotters may have upset the evening, but not the day. Back then, I thought if the protesters had actually arrived to the show to argue, we may have been able to have a fruitful and interesting conversation about the unanswerable conundrums of living; but today, I realize too many prefer to carve the world into black and white. Resolution is losing. Compromise is undone. Getting along is the new Neverland.
For those of us who prefer to ponder the unknowables of life and death and community — we accept there are far too many variables to set upon a single moral action for anything that underpins everything.
A Stone’s Throw would not likely find a performance home today, and that sad fact completely and solely crushes any idea of intellectual and aesthetic progression in America over the last three decades — for there are now too many radical activists on both sides of the abortion issue to allow any dramatic piece a fairplay airing without pre-qualified condemnation — and that’s a terrible thing that just thinking about something can be suppressed by non-wonderers and immoral indeterminates who seek only a hard punishment for any perceived sin against the body colloquial.