Best Of 2005

Best Controversial Show That Wasn't: Polish Joke, Beck Center

As community theaters go, Lakewood's Beck Center revels in its bad-boy image more than most. How else to explain the Fourth of July parade float featuring a transvestite in leather and fishnets (a garish plug for Hedwig and the Angry Inch). Last year's top draw at the Beck Center was an adaptation of the 1936 propaganda film Reefer Madness, about teens who toke up and descend into sex-crazed psychosis. But Polish Joke, Beck Center's April satire about a Polish American boy dealing with ethnic stereotypes, seemed an unlikely candidate for alarm. That, of course, was before Pope John Paul II - the world's most revered Pole - did Beck the disservice of expiring a week before opening night. The theater was pelted with irate calls demanding Polish Joke's cancellation. None seemed aware that the show's central message is actually a call to embrace one's ancestry. "I can't say it's a show that the Pope would be proud to see, but I can't believe it would be offensive," said Beck spokeswoman Yvette Hanzel. Management considered postponing Polish Joke, but instead pressed on after issuing an apology. By the time the first curtain came down, nobody remembered what the fuss was about.