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Controversial 'gay Jesus' play opens in New York


September 23, 1998

NEW YORK - The curtain went up Tuesday on an off-Broadway play about a gay Christlike figure that infuriated religious groups and sparked death threats months before it even opened.

Dozens of bearded men in sandals and robes, some carrying crosses, held a prayer vigil outside the theater as Terrence McNally's show ``Corpus Christi'' debuted to a full house.

About 100 people protested, with some carrying placards saying ``Why mock Jesus Christ'' and ``Don't Support Blasphemy.'' A 70-year-old woman protesting the play was arrested for disorderly conduct, police said.

``Certain segments of the arts community seem obsessed with sex, and ... they're projecting it onto Jesus Christ,'' said Rick Hinshaw, a spokesman for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. ``It's just the misportrayal, blasphemous portrayal of Jesus.''

Published reports that the play depicted a gay Jesus character who has sex with his apostles set off a furor last spring.

Play spokesman Andy Shearer refused to discuss the script Tuesday, saying McNally preferred to let ``Corpus Christi'' speak for itself.

He said no details would be released beyond a description in a brochure sent to potential theatergoers earlier this year. It said: ``From modern day Corpus Christi, Texas, to ancient Jerusalem, we follow a young gay man named Joshua on his spiritual journey, and get to know the 12 disciples who choose to follow him.''

In May, the Manhattan Theater Club canceled plans to produce the play at City Center after receiving anonymous death threats against its actors, audience and McNally.

Days later, theater executives reversed their decision, saying police had promised to ensure safety if the play was staged, and it was scheduled for Oct. 13. Tuesday was the first night of previews, in which a play is generally fine-tuned before its official opening.

Dozens of police officers kept protesters away from the theater and theater-goers, who had to pass through airport-style metal detectors set up at the door.

McNally, who has won Tony Awards for his plays ``Master Class,'' ``Kiss of the Spider Woman'' and ``Love! Valour! Compassion!'' also won this year for his book of the musical ''Ragtime.'' -Sapa-AP

 

      

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