volume 42, number 4
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

Letter to the Editor: April 11, 2012



To the Editor:

In her critique of Temple Theater’s production of “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” Professor Karen Turner articulates exactly what she found offensive and inappropriate in the production. In recent letter’s to the editor, colleagues in theater have defended another perspective, arguing that the play intentionally provokes this response, demanding that we wrestle with the historical and social wrongs depicted.

What has been lost in the debate is Turner’s argument that the play provided an opportunity to engage the campus community in a meaningful discussion of race. She suggests a series of questions that might have been entertained by performers, staff and audience at the conclusion of each performance. “Why was there a blatant use of stereotypes and offensive language”, for one? As Director Doug Wager notes, the things that most offended in the play were intentional decisions made by the playwright. There was a window here to have an unsettling, inconclusive and rich discussion of “Why?” There are colleagues on campus – in TLC, IDEAL, HR, African American Studies, and History to name a few --who are well-equipped to facilitate these dialogues.

As a Philadelphia theater-goer, I love the occasional “talk back.” Instead of analyzing the play over drinks with friends, I get the benefit of the director’s and actors’ ideas. This particular play, performed in an educational institution, was the perfect opportunity for that theater tradition. I suspect some of us would have left convinced it was inappropriate and irredeemably offensive. Some of us would have left convinced that it was a valuable provocation. Some of us would have left uncertain about where we stand. Piaget argues that we learn from “disequilibrium and discrepancy,” the challenge of accommodating new phenomenon and new ideas. It would be worth structuring formal opportunities for such perspective sharing in the future.

Pamela E. Barnett, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Provost & Director
Teaching & Learning Center
Graduate Faculty, Psychological Studies in Education