by Tana Michaels
SAGINAW – The controversy continues over “Angels in America,” a play now showing at Saginaw Valley State University. The play opened last weekend and will continue with three more performances this weekend.
Rep. Jack Brandenburg, ((R-Harrison Township)), was on the radio station WJR, 760 AM Thursday morning slamming the play. Brandenburg appeared on the Frank Beckmann show saying that he objected to the play’s frontal male nudity and the use of the “F” word.
Brandenburg went to Pam Burns, the chairwoman for the House Subcommittee on Appropriations for Higher Education and voiced his concerns. Burns saw nothing wrong with the play. “She feels the play is fine,” said Brandenburg.
Undaunted, Brandenburg went on to write a letter to Speaker of the House, Andy Dillon, that stated Mr. Dillon should direct chairwoman Burns to have the SVSU President come down and give testimony to the Appropriations Committee.
When Mr. Beckmann asked what solution Brandenburg sought, the representative replied that he wanted to put a hold on funding to the university. “Put their feet to the fire. Tell President Gilbertson if he doesn’t shut down this play, and I mean now! Shut it down! That his funding is going to be held by the state. And if he really doesn’t want to go along, demand his resignation.”
“This is not about education. This is not about art. This play is a degeneracy,” Brandenburg said. They’re “promoting filth.”
When reminded by the show’s host, Frank Beckmann, that the play was a Pulitzer Prize winner, Brandenburg replied, “I don’t care how many awards the play has won… I think the play is garbage.” “Angels” has won many awards besides the Pulitzer including a Tony.
Director of Media Relations from SVSU, J.J. Boehm, responded that, “‘Angels’ wasn’t some second rate sleeze that was picked up somewhere. This is a play that has been shown at hundreds of universities across the country.”
Neither Boehm nor Brandenburg knew whether those shows have been inclusive of the “F” word and frontal nudity or not.
Boehm went on to say that while the play may be offensive to some, “we have an obligation to our students to allow them to perform a broad range of theatrical offerings.”
In a phone interview, Boehm said that he was surprised by the level of attention given to the play considering the budget problems plaguing the state. He wasn’t aware of the play causing any controversy when it was shown at four other Universities in the state and wondered aloud, “Why us? Why now?” He said that he would much rather be talking about Christine Macey, an SVSU student that was one of only two in the country to be selected for an internship with the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Universities are for exchanging ideas and expressions in a host of areas,” Boehm added.
The spokesman for the university had a busy day with other radio interviews including two Saginaw stations WSGW and WNEM. There was also a mention on WNEM TV, the local CBS affiliate.
Despite all this media coverage, there is very little interest from the local community. Asking people at the Fashion Square Mall in Saginaw Township, located about a mile from the university, what they thought of the controversy, most had never heard of the play. Only three people had heard of it and two of those didn’t care about it one way or another.
One woman, Marcia Ostler, however was well informed about “Angels in America” and planned to see it this weekend. She was genuinely surprised that Rep. Brandenburg would want to hold funding to the university. She said the play had an important message and to “halt funding for an expression of art was just silly.” She went on to say that, “there’s too much conservatism out there right now.” She also complimented the director, Ric Roberts, and said, “We’re lucky to have a talent like him in the area.”
Ostler asked again who wanted to shut down the play and when reminded of Brandenburg’s name, she replied that he wasn’t even from this area (Saginaw.) She is right. He is not. And he never mentions whether he’s seen the play.
“The play will run,” says Boehm. “The university remains committed, only those speaking against the play have changed. The university’s standpoint remains the same.”