The Catholic League, which two seasons ago picketed the Manhattan Theatre Club's production of Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi, has come out against The Irondale Ensemble Project's New York premiere of Italian playwright Dario Fo's The Pope and the Witch, now in previews (opening May 3). The group has called for an end to Irondale's federal funding.
In a statement released by the Catholic League on April 26, League President William Donohue said "Dario Fo is a Stalinist and an anti Catholic bigot, thus making him indistinguishable from many in the crowd he runs with... We are writing to every member of Congress who serves on the Appropriations Committee requesting that all future federal funding of the Irondale Ensemble Project and the Theater for the New City Foundation be stopped. It is one thing for Catholics to put up with bigotry, quite another to force them to subsidize it."
Dario Fo has long been a thorn in the side of the Catholic Church, an institution that is often the target of his satires. When Fo won the Nobel Prize for Literature several years ago, the Vatican took the extraordinary step of issuing a statement expressing its dismay at the decision. The Pope and the Witch tells of a radical hypnotist and healer who forces the Pope to alter his opinions on hot-button issues like drugs and birth control. Fo's other works include Accidental Death of an Anarchist and We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!.
"The Pope And The Witch," said Irondale's executive director, Terry Greiss, in a statement, "is, in our opinion, a play about hypocrisy and hypocritical acts conducted by large institutions. It is not an anti Catholic play. In fact, the Pope is depicted in this play as one of the most moral and ethical people in the world. "
The Irondale received $15,000 in federal fund last year. However, said Greiss, none of that went towards the production of The Pope and the Witch. In 1998, the Catholic League came out swinging against Corpus Christi, in which a Jesus-like figure is depicted as being gay. The heated protest resulted in MTC temporarily canceling the production, then reinstating it under pressure from the theatre community. The theatre was also the target of pickets and received a great deal of hate mail. Theatregoers eventually had to pass through a metal detector to reach the auditorium.
A spokesman for the Irondale said that, while the troupe has received a few pieces of hate mail, no physical protests of the production had taken place.
Jim Niesen directs. Christian Brandjes, Heidi K. Eklund, Michael-David Gordon, Terry Greiss, Sven Miller, Patrena Murray and Damen Scranton form the cast.
For information on The Pope and the Witch, call (212) 633-1292.
-- By Robert Simonson