CHICAGO – A Chicago theater production has ignited a controversy over whether child actors are being exposed to subject matter far more suited to adults.
The play, "The Pain and the Itch (search)," is being produced at Chicago's renowned Steppenwolf Theatre (search). It is a dark comedy about the lengths to which a family will go to protect a child.
But as the production includes vulgar language, talk of adultery and the sounds of a pornographic video, some audience members have questioned whether it exploits the two young actresses who share the role of Kayla. The older of the actresses is 7 years old.
"I thought it was totally inappropriate," said audience member Ian Gladding. "I thought the whole thing could be inferred, having a child on stage. I was just personally shocked by having the child there with the subject matter."
Besides the language and mature content, Kayla often appears on stage scratching her crotch through her clothes because her character has a genital rash.
Last week, the production released one of the two girls who was playing Kayla after a dispute between her parents and the theater.
Steppenwolf Theatre staff said the parents of first-grader Darragh Dolan (search) demanded script changes. But her parents said they felt the theater failed to support their daughter after newspaper articles raised questions about whether her role was age-appropriate.
Steppenwolf is in the process of casting a replacement.
According to theater staff, extraordinary measures have been taken to safeguard the children when they are off the set, including turning off all backstage audio monitors. Theater staff also said the children's parents read the script and attended rehearsals.
In addition, theater staff said they've surveyed audience members and received overwhelming support for the director's artistic license and the themes conveyed in the play.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Jeff Goldblatt.