Banned in Bisbee
An In-Depth Article and Review by Jen Bush
Since the 1600’s, the banning of books has been in practice. A popular form of book censorship at that time that was captured in Farenheit 451, a novel ironically about book censorship was book burning. Book banning appears to be in the eye of the beholder or censor. Books that are selected to be banned are deemed morally or otherwise objectionable for social, sexual, political, religious and other reasons. I’m admittedly jarred when I see certain words in print or read about things that were deemed appropriate years ago that are horrifying by today’s standards. If that didn’t exist, how are we to move forward if we are restricted to accessing the realities of the past and learning from them? Some of the most widely read and significant pieces of literature have been banned. Titles such as Of Mice and Men, Brave New World, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter and Captain Underpants have been shunned by society.
Banned in Bisbee looks at book censorship in a unique manner. Set in a small and small-minded town of Bisbee, Arizona, two characters from Irving A. Greenfield’s book series, The Depth Force novels, escape and enter the dreams of several of the town’s residents. Naval officers Captain Joe Boxer and Master Chief Gomez are intent on exacting revenge upon the individuals responsible for banning the books in which they reside as main characters. They want the ban lifted. The play is very reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode where a colorful cast of characters is gathered in a surreal situation. We had a cowboy sheriff, a surly bartender, two naval officers and perhaps the most outrageous character, a Jewish Asian pirate among others.
Fifteen years ago, Mayor William Wholemouth banned The Depth Force series in his ultra conservative and bible thumping town of Bisbee. He took it a ludicrous step further by equipping private homes and public places with an obnoxiously loud and elaborate morality alarm. It was set off whenever anyone uttered profanity or mentioned any aspect of The Depth Force series. His dreams were high on the visitation list of Boxer and Gomez.
As the play progresses we meet more of the townsfolk and hear Boxer and Gomez make their case for reinstatement of their books. In a fun twist where fantasy meets reality, the real Irving A. Greenfield who is the author of this play, makes an on-screen cameo and interacts with his characters. The play is fun and unique. It plays with clichés and is not afraid to address our real world current political and religious climate. If you like The Twilight Zone, you’ll enjoy this. The actors were finely matched to their characters. Gina Zenyuch was a convincingly demure Mrs. Wholemouth. Nick Pascarella did a great job as the uptight and devout mayor. Ken Coughlin and Manny Rey gave robust and humorous performances as the naval officers. Tony Scheer must have visited many small towns and modeled his bartender Henry O’Bannon on what he saw because he was spot on. Robert Uller did such a good job as Freddie the sheriff, he could actually get hired as a small-town sheriff. Meredith Rust was wonderful as the feisty librarian. Aaron Vargas has a bright future in acting ahead of embodying the not so innocent Billy Wholemouth, son of the mayor. A standout performance came from Joshuah Patriarco as Steven Zacks, FBI agent and Fong Shun Un, the Jewish Asian pirate. He was just enough over the top to not be obnoxiously over the top. He took two very different characters and distinguished them from each other very well. One was played seriously and one with a lot of humor.
The very cool thing about this play is that Irving A. Greenfield really exists. He actually wrote The Depth Force series of books along with having over 300 other novels and plays under his belt. Speaking of under his belt, fun fact, he started out penning erotica. No wonder he’s an expert on banned books. He’s also a distinguished professor of literature who is still churning out the written word today at the ripe young age of 90. I look forward to picking up one of his books.
I’m off to slumberland now. Perhaps I’ll be visited in my dreams by a well-known literary character like Ebenezer Scrooge, Sherlock Holmes or Christian Grey!