"Hugs and Kisses," a play that deals with sexual abuse of children, last night survived a challenge before the Prince William County School Board and will continue to be performed at elementary schools around the county.
Regis R. Lacey, board member from the Neabsco District, asked that the play be reviewed for a second time because of complaints from some parents. Lacey said he had been contacted by stepfathers with complaints about the production, which tells the story of a girl who is sexually abused by her stepfather.
But other school board members supported "Hugs and Kisses" and Lacey was forced to back down.
"Cinderella had a bad stepmother and that didn't make all stepmothers bad," said Coles District member Odis M. Price. Child abuse, he said, "is a problem and I would say go full speed ahead with this play. It's well done and I'm still behind it 100 percent."
The play, currently touring 17 elementary schools in Prince William County, is produced by Theatre IV, a nonprofit children's touring dramatic group in Richmond.
In the 35-minute performance, a five-member cast stresses the difference between "good touching" and "bad touching," and emphasizes a child's right to say no to a sexually abusive adult.
There is no depiction of sexual abuse in the play and the language used by the actors is not explicit.
The production has stirred controversy in Fairfax County, where school officials, apparently concerned with the play's sensitive subject, canceled some performances last year.
In Prince William, children are required to have permission slips signed by a parent to see the production -- a policy set by a 4-to-3 school board vote this summer. County police have criticized the permission slip requirement, suggesting that any parent who is molesting a child would not sign.
Police Capt. James K. Sullivan said the production, which has played six times so far in the county, has "resulted in some very serious allegations made by children that are bearing fruit." He said he expects charges to be filed in several cases.
Last year, the play was performed 90 times throughout Virginia, and 189 children approached members of the cast after productions with concerns that they had been sexually abused, according to Theatre IV managing director Philip Whiteway.
In Prince William, a county social worker and a police officer from the county juvenile bureau are assigned to attend all productions of "Hugs and Kisses." They are introduced to the children after the play and are on hand to screen reports of sexual abuse from the children.
The play is booked at 67 Virginia schools through Thanksgiving, and Whiteway said he expects it to tour the state again in the spring.