Local play setting the stage for controversy - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Local play setting the stage for controversy

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - A local theater group is putting on the play based on a classic novel written by Mark Twain. But it's the language used that's getting mixed reviews.

Reed Lievers, the eighth grade star of "Big River," says by not watering down the offensive language of "Huck Finn," it's forced him to face the troubling part of slavery.

"It's been a huge growing experience for me as an actor and as a person," Reed said.

Based on Mark Twain's classic novel, the play's runaway slave named Jim is repeatedly called the N-word.

"For a lot of people, and myself included, that is probably the most offensive word in the English language," director Shaun Evans said.

Evans says in today's PC world, most other productions of "Big River" choose to sanitize the script.

"And as I sat watching it, I thought if I didn't know any better I would think slavery wasn't all that bad," he said.

Evans feels history, for better or worse, shouldn't be rewritten, and neither will his play.

"The danger in that is if you dumb America's kids down and you make them ignorant to the past, then how do they know where they've come from?" he said.

The problem is, three schools are refusing to come watch the show. It's something Evans believes isn't fair for 320 students, who he feels are missing out on a teachable moment.

"Don't sell them short and assume it will be something bad in the end, because kids learn from things if you let them," Evans said.

Reed Liever's mother Annette says her son still isn't comfortable using the N-word, but at least he's learned why.

"It's reality, and I think watering it down does everybody a disservice," she said.

Some of the play's scenes portray the cruelty to slaves. Although Evans understands historic accuracy may hurt attendance and ticket sales, he feels principal is more important than profit.

"I just feel as an artist and as a descendant myself of American slaves, that I feel like it wouldn't be right for me to pretend that was other than what it really was," Evans said.

"Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" opens Saturday night at the Joan Kroc Theatre.

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