The theatre department at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, has canceled a production of Michael Weller’s play Buyer Beware following complaints from students over allegedly racist content. Originally scheduled for production this semester, the show will be replaced with a spring course examining the challenging issues the controversy evoked.
According to university newspaper The Brandeis Hoot, criticism for Buyer Beware began in October after a number of theatre students who had read the script expressed discomfort over its depiction of black people and its portrayal of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Weller’s Buyer Beware takes place on the Brandeis campus and follows a student named Ron who finds audio recordings of stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce from the ‘60s and plans a routine in the style of the controversial comic. In the play, obtained by The Hoot, a black student overhears Ron’s use of a Bruce quote—which includes the n-word—and makes a complaint.
“[Buyer Beware] positions a white man as the brave protagonist and a black man (and BLM) as the over-reacting, violent antagonist,” Brandeis alum Ayelet Schrek wrote in a now-deleted Facebook event page opposing the play, according to The Hoot.
Weller told Boston public radio station WBUR-FM that he was “personally heartbroken” over the decision and called the handling of his play by the university department “dangerous and corrosive.”
Weller is a Brandeis alum who will be awarded the Creative Arts Award this spring. Last fall, the playwright was a resident at the university where he spent time researching the Lenny Bruce archives.
That same fall, University President Ron Liebowitz formed Brandeis’ Presidential Task Force on Free Expression, which subsequently released a draft of principles to be discussed in a series of open meetings throughout the current semester to “guide university policy.” The Hoot reports that Liebowitz confirmed the decision to replace the play is consistent with the mission of the task force’s drafted principles.