Park commissioners want ‘bad words’ deleted from play

Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Appalachian park officials say they support a director’s efforts to stage a play there next summer, but they don’t want the characters to use “God’s name in vain” or the f-word.

Stephanie Richards, an Elkhorn City, Ky., native and master’s degree candidate at Roosevelt University in Chicago, plans to produce The Kentucky Cycle in the Breaks Interstate Park. The park straddles the Kentucky-Virginia border.

But park commissioners want Richards to change a few words before she puts on the production, Park Superintendent Carl Mullins told “I’d like to see the play done here. God knows we need all the cultural activity we can get but just not in that particular form,” he said.

The Kentucky Cycle is an epic play about three families, two feuding white groups and one black family whose lives are connected by their common ancestor, a Cherokee woman. The play covers two centuries and is set in the Appalachians.

The play, written by Robert Schenkkan, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

When Richards staged a reading of The Kentucky Cycle for park commissioners and community members last June, seven of the eight park officials balked at a few “bad words” in the piece.

After the public reading, Mullins said he received calls from people complaining about the language in the play, the Associated Press reported. That’s why the commission requested that Richards change or delete the “offensive language,” Mullins said.

“My view is that this is a family-oriented park,” Mullins told “I believe that type of language is not suitable for our visitors.”

Richards said commissioners are underestimating park visitors’ ability to think for themselves.

“It’s very important to give the community credit and assume that they have the intelligence to choose for themselves whether they want to see the play,” Richards told

“Audiences in Chicago, New York and other cities get to decide for themselves what they’re offended by and what they’re not offended by. I think censorship alters people’s choices,” she said.

Nonetheless, Richards has written to the playwright asking him to alter the script for her production. Richards says Schenkkan has not responded to her request.

“As the playwright, Schenkkan gets to decide what happens in the play,” Richards said. “If he chooses to change the words, that’s his choice, not mine as the director. If he chooses not to change the language, then we’d have to honor that choice as well.”

Commission attorney Gerald Gray told the park commission that a public agency doesn’t have legal grounds to deny Richards use of the stage to produce the play, even if the playwright refuses to change the script.

No court would prohibit any of the language in the play, Gray told the Associated Press. “We can’t engage in censorship.”

But Mullins said the park commission “rules and governs the park.” If Richards does not agree to change the language, the commission will not allow Richards to present the play in the park, he said.

The project, scheduled for production next summer, serves as Richard’s graduate thesis.

Richards said she’s forging ahead with her plans to direct the play. Rehearsals are scheduled to begin next May.

Richards said her presentation of the play would be more authentic if all the language remained in its original form. The way the characters in The Kentucky Cycle speak reveals who they are as people, she said.

“I believe you put the work up as it stands and that’s the beauty of art, people get to decide for themselves the merit of the work,” she said. “These stories about the mountain people are beautiful and poignant.”

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