Feb 28, 2022

Stover drew praise, ire for explicit works

Performance artist and Oxtales Theatre director Andrea Stover, who was found dead this morning at Oxford Centre, was no stranger to controversy — even before a 2015 production landed her in prison on sex crime charges.

Stover first made headlines in 2007, when her play "Sade and the Serpent" offended some audience members because of its explicit language. Local church groups picketed the show's two-week run at the Oxford Community Center, and 400 residents signed a petition protesting the performance being held on city property, but the Oxford City Council refused to shut it down.

In 2009, Stover created another controversy when she was invited to stage Shakespeare's "Hamlet" at the University of Mississippi. The production included full frontal nudity and simulated non-consensual sex between the title character and Queen Gertrude, his mother.

Academicians questioned Stover's interpretation of the text, while residents again protested the use of public funds for controversial works.

"What we've seen that's upsetting is the government sponsoring her lewd productions," said former Oxford resident Patricia Doyle, who headed several picketing campaigns against Stover. "It's like the Playboy magazine getting a grant. It's just not right."

Doyle — whose group, Mothers for Decency in Art, disbanded in 2011 when Doyle moved to Texas — also organized picket and boycotting campaigns for Stover's 2010 play "Boot Slaves" at the Stone Center, which was partially funded by a grant from the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, and for Oxtales Theatre's interpretation of "The Story of O," which received a Mississippi Arts Commission grant.

Public enemy? Maybe. Critical darling? Definitely.

But while Stover attracted local censure, she also garnered praise from theatre critics.

"Her productions were well-executed. They asked a lot of questions without sacrificing plot or character," said New Orleans Times-Picayune theatre writer Leonard Chabeaux, who began reviewing Stover's work in 2012. "She was a maverick along the lines of Annie Sprinkle."

With her growing notoriety — and commercial success — Stover took bigger risks, such as the 2011 performance piece "leather $ale," an explicit verse recitative accompanied by a slide show of male prostitutes.

But Stover's most controversial piece was the 2015 "Snopes," which depicted an imagined love affair between William Faulkner and the daughter of his African-American nanny, Callie Barr, and included partial nudity as well as simulated heterosexual and homosexual sex.

The production also led to Stover's conviction and imprisonment after parents of three teenagers who volunteered as stage technicians for "Snopes" saw a video of the production and filed sex-crime charges.

According to Oxtales Theatre assistant director Dale King, the production Stover was working on when she died would have been at least as controversial as her previous works.

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