Charlottetown and the F-word

Allan Fotheringham May 4 1987

Charlottetown and the F-word

Allan Fotheringham May 4 1987

Charlottetown and the F-word


Allan Fotheringham

It is so good to know that there are still some alert guardians of our country. Some stout citizens prepared to man the ramparts and save the nation from moral destruction. They stand on guard, for me and thee. This would be your basic good burghers from Charlottetown, downtown Prince Edward Island, who are involved in a furious fight to make sure that the F-word does not make it to the stage where Anne of Green Gables achieved her theatrical fame. All Charlottetown is split.

Old friends cross the street rather than speak to one another. The premier is involved, and there is an air of crisis on this sandbar in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The problem is Elvis.

This year happens to be the 10th anniversary of the death of the greaseball who used to palpitate the nether regions of every 14-year-old female in the land. The Charlottetown Festival this summer plans to spruce up its presentations with a show about Mr. Presley, a tribute first mounted in London’s West End several years ago. The dreadful prospect mesmerizing Prince Edward Island is that the feared F-word occurs 17 times in the production. The heavens are about to open. A blue zot is going to come down from the skies and, undoubtedly, rip apart the stage of the lovely Confederation Centre theatre, built as a centennial project near the spot where Canada was hatched by those old geezers with the beards in 1864.

It is reassuring to know that outrage is still a fine Canadian product, along with maple syrup and Senate patronage. Some 30 years ago Vancouver was in a terrible swivet because a local theatre decided to stage Tobacco Road, the adaptation of the classic written by Erskine Caldwell (who died just the other day). Tobacco Road, along with his God's Little Acre, just happened to be the best-selling paperbacks in the world at that time and delineated the life of the white trash in the Deep

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

South where Caldwell was raised. True to the book, one of the Vancouver actors, his back to the audience, had to pee against a fence while talking over his shoulder to his bedraggled wife.

Well. Police were in the audience opening night, the newspapers were apoplectic with excitement, the theatre owner was arrested, and you’d have thought nuclear war—not to mention all hell—was breaking loose. Here we are three decades later, at the opposite end of the country, and Charlottetown is frightened to death of the F-word. Ah, progress. It’s wonderful.

The villain in all this, as might be imagined, is a Newfoundlander-by-wayof-Vancouver. Walter Learning, for the past few years, has been running the Vancouver Playhouse theatre and was hired at Charlottetown supposedly to zip up (he was last seen wearing a tie in 1947) the festival, which naturally runs the dewy-eyed Anne of G.G. every summer and one suspects his thinking (i.e. Elvis) was to attract to the season someone under 56.

Oh, it’s been traumatic. Your faithful agent, ever diligent in research on behalf of my loyal claque, was in that picture-book city recently, and the dinner party conversations raged with nothing else. Church groups have obtained copies of the script and, thanks to Xerox, have papered the town with all 17 mentions of the F-word. The lady who was chairman of the theatre board has had to resign. Premier Joe Ghiz, who is against Elvis and the Fword in this theatre, had to preside over three days of debate in the legis-

lature and the crisis in our smallest province is not over yet.

It is, conceded, a national issue. If the F-word is spoken in public in Charlottetown, is there no stopping it? The fear is that it may sweep the land, like herpes before it and now AIDS. Jules Feiffer, the brilliant satirist, recently had a cartoon strip showing an astonished male reading his paper and exclaiming that he never thought he would see the day when the word “condoms” was in a daily paper. Now, he moaned, everything he picks up is ablaze with “condoms” and “mastur-

bation” and “AIDS.” By the time newspapers finally get around to using the F-word, he concludes, nobody will be doing it anymore. Amen, brother.

Any normal 15-year-old goes to movies these days in which Paul Newman uses the F-word 47 times and watches the afternoon soaps where they are humping in every episode. But Charlottetown demurs. It has been pointed out to Premier Ghiz, who is an intelligent lawyer and a nice guy, that several years ago the very same festival, on this same stage, put on Johnny Belinda, which showed a rape. Yes,

says the premier, but it was a “simulated” rape. Meaning, apparently, that you can show them F-ing on the stage but you can’t describe it.

Perhaps the actors in the Elvis show should just mouth the F-word, as P.E. Trudeau claimed he did when he told a Tory MP to F-off. (Jack Webster, the demigod Vancouver broadcaster, explained to his audience at the time that Mr. Trudeau had told his tormentor “to go elsewhere and propagate.”)

One of the Charlottetown objections is over a line from a first-time Elvis observer who, shocked, says, “He’s Fing his audience!” Of course he was. As Frank Sinatra, not so successfully now in his 70s, still tries to do. As Peggy Lee does. As Al Jolson did, as all the supreme artists do. That’s why we pay 35 bucks to watch them. Cheap at twice the price.

Walter Learning, go home and wash your mouth out. You’re a baneful influence and will probably lead to the downfall of the nation.