In a dramatic reversal, Manhattan Theatre Club announced May 28 that it was reinstating its planned production of Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi, which had been canceled May 22 owing to "security" concerns.
With promises of police protection, the play, reportedly depicting a Jesus-like character who has offstage sex with his apostles, will go on after all.
A religious group threatened to seek a cutoff of funding for MTC. The MTC reportedly had received threats of violence.
What are your opinions of this situation? Was MTC right to cancel the production? Did such cancellation constitute censorship? What precautions, if any, should MTC take in presenting Corpus Christi? How do you feel about a play that depicts a gay Jesus-like character?
We're especially interested in hearing from Manhattan Theatre Club subscribers. Send your opinions to Playbill On-Line's Managing Editor Robert Viagas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Playbill thanks all who take the time to write. Here are the results so far:
First of all I have to say, I feel for Lynn Meadows and Barry Grove and the difficulty of the position in which they have been placed. I am sure they wanted to do what was best for the safety and integrity of the theatre and they should be supported through the difficult decisions they are required to make. They have, since reinstated the play and good for them. Good for Athol Fugard and Terrence McNally--and good for us.
In light of the situation between Pakistan and India, it is important that we examine what is being dictated to us by the so called "religious leaders" of the world. This is another historical event that is indicative of the pain and dread that has been inflicted upon us in the name of religion.
From the IRA to the battles in Palestine to abortion clinic bombings to the current nuclear muscle from religious factions, it is obvious that we cannot succumb to any terrorist threats intent on taking away our freedom in the name of religion or otherwise. We must decide what is best for us ourselves. As soon as we realize that these people, including the Catholic League or the Eagle Forum or any other right wing group, do not speak for "God", we will realize that they speak for no one. The treat to freedom goes well beyond this production of "Corpus Christi". The downfall of civilization could well be at hand, but it will not be brought on by the likes of Terrence McNally or MTC.
I am deeply distressed to hear that this production has been reinstated. I am [an] actress here in NYC, but more importantly, I am a Catholic. I strongly feel that some subjects could and should remain sacred. Jesus for example is not a subject that should be toyed with. Our creator deserves only love and respect. As a writer, Terrence McNally was given great gifts. . .those of which he has in the past been able to create fabulous works. It is so sad to hear that he is using his gifts to distort the image of his Creator. He has the opportunity to truly influence his audience, and do good with his station.
I am not saying that being gay is wrong, or even un-Catholic, but to [say] Jesus is gay is simple un researched. The fact is this play is created out of falsehoods...and I truly feel that Jesus is where this writer should draw the line.
We live in a very mixed up world at times, but the one truth and light in this world is Faith...why screw with that? Art for art's sake? I think not. There is a line even we artists should draw. God should be represented only in awe and wonder, truth and goodness. This is just sinful...and a real shame too. How disappointing. What an embarrassment to our community.
From Marshall Lucas:
I always chuckle when the public -- especially the conservative Christians -- react to something they haven't seen, read or heard. It's appearing more and more that these groups seek out the controversy and the resulting attention and consequently come out looking like radical fools.
As for your list of questions, I honestly don't know enough about the work (Corpus Christi) to make any comment -- I'm not sure anyone else does either? (I can't wait to see it though!)
From Lane, Robert:
In the earlier posts on this topic Chad Klopenstein wrote about how ridiculous it is to make Jesus, an historical character, something he totally was not.
Bravo Mr. Klopenstein. Thank you for having the courage to express your view and for bringing a logical perspective to the debate. You hit the nail on the head both in respecting McNally's right to write the play while pointing out the travesty of redefining an historical character. To take your analogy a bit further can we even imagine the outcry if a work was written in which MLK was portrayed as a racist, white-hater. (Though maybe the white supremacist groups could applaud, "He belongs to us as well." How absurd.)
The only thing I might disagree with is your claim that there is no such thing as censorship in the private sector. It is appropriate for a private company's to "censor" in their best interest (and hopefully in their ethical judgment). Don't forget, the first amendment also guarantees us the right to NOT say things we don't want to. I pray that MTC will always have the 1st amendment right to produce plays such as Corpus Christi. I hope they, and others, will exercise their right NOT to produce them. Just because something is legal doesn't make it right.
(Of course MTC has reversed their decision. It doesn't surprise me to find that their decision(s) have not been based on ethics but on $$, image and public pressure.)
From Erik Haagensen:
Well, just as James V. Davies [See posting below. --Ed.] "had to speak out", I have to respond to his thinking. He unwittingly nails the reason why so many people are furious with the religious rightwingers on this issue. His reasoning relies solely upon that tautology known as "faith". We do not "know" that the Bible is the true word of God. There is no objective proof of this. Mr. Davies has chosen to believe it, which is his choice to make. (Though it always amazes me that the people who make it ignore the centuries of corruption and alteration in the text of the Bible made by a variety of religious entities and putative leaders for their own selfish purposes. It's virtually impossible at this point to know what the text was as it was originally written down nearly 2000 years ago. And even then, some of the writing is transcriptions of oral histories given by others, already at least one step removed from the source. And then there is the entirely separate matter of faulty translations from the original language. But enough.)
Mr. Davies' choice should not be foisted upon the rest of us. The Bible doesn't overtly discuss Jesus' possible sexual life. It is silent on the matter. People like Mr. Davies make the leap that Jesus was celibate based on what amount to spiritual "if/then" statements. They then go on to claim some kind of "right" to their interpretation of Jesus. Mr. Davies expresses it in a negative way, when he says that Mr. McNally "does not have the right to distort the truth and pervert Jesus Christ". Many, many people do not accept Mr. Davies' version of "the truth". (Or, as Alan Jay Lerner put it in "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever", "In India, there are six hundred million people who think that Christmas is a fantasy.") When you are in that kind of a minority, I don't think you have any place denying people the right to see things differently and to disagree with you. If your "proof" of "the truth" is so watertight, why do you have so many people disagreeing with you? And, indeed, if you are so unshakable in your convictions, how can a little disagreement threaten you so much?
Comparisons have been made (by other Playbill On-Line responders and on today's New York Times Op-Ed Page) between Mr. McNally's play and hypothetical plays that would distort the beliefs of recent historical figures such as Martin Luther King or Hitler. Our proximity in time to these men, not to mention the voluminous and demonstrably accurate reportage of their beliefs as public figures, cannot be compared to the 2000 year old accounts of texts of considerably murky pedigree. It is simply not the same. (Show me some videotape of The Sermon on the Mount or Christ's appearance to the disciples after the crucifixion and I'll reconsider.) Christian religious faith is not demonstrable fact and has no right (yes, I'll use the word) to demand treatment of such in the public arena.
Terrence McNally has every right to create a version of the story of Christ that speaks to him. The Bible long ago went into public domain. Mr. Davies has the right to disagree with it, even to be offended by it, and to speak out loudly and clearly about why. He has the right not to go. What he most emphatically does not have is the right to prevent those of us eager to hear what Mr. McNally has to say from hearing it. The last time I checked, America was still not a theocracy.
From James V. Davies:
I have read the messages from those whom have written and I must say I am very disturbed and disheartened by the answers. So far I have not read any negative comment on the question about the character of Jesus being depicted gay.
I am not going to speak of the other questions but want to give my voice on this question. People have been saying, "how do we know Jesus was not gay" and are saying, "well we weren't there" Another statement even dared to say, "he had to have a 'relationship' with someone, he is a human being!" We DO know that Jesus was not gay for the Bible is the true word of God and tells us that homosexuality is a sin and because Jesus is God that is impossible! He was completely sinless! He knew no sin so we KNOW he had no relationships. Jesus was God in human form but NOT human therefore to even portray him in any way other than what he is, which is God, is sacrilegious and blasphemy! What scares me is there is NO fear of God in anyone! Some of these same people even dare to say they are Christians and spiritual! If they were believers they would know the truth.
McNally has a right to create a play but he does not have the right to distort the truth and pervert Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Jesus IS real and his purpose in this life is well documented in the Bible from his birth, crucifixion, and resurrection! I know if you do not believe the truth of God and are not a believer it does not matter to that person but to see how many people disrespect God openly... I had to speak out! Thank You
From Patrick Giblin:
I'm certainly glad to hear that MTC has decided to mount this show after all. I'm sure it was a tough decision to pull the show, and I applaud them for changing their position.
What angered me so much about the Catholic League's opposition to this show was their outright condemnation of it, without having read or seen it. Let's stop caving in to one small, radical religious group. If the public finds it offensive, they won't go. It was the same situation with Scorsese's "Last Temptation of Christ." Cardinal O'Connor condemned it, but anyone who has the ability to think for themself made their own choice whether it was offensive, or for that matter, a good film.
Though I'm Catholic, I don't like the church, or some misguided faction of it, making my decisions for me.
From Arley Tapir:
As an actor and artist I was surprised by MTC's [original] response, but in the context of today's society with the bombings of churches, abortion clinics, the OK Federal building, and on and on, I do not fault MTC for being fearful in regard to safety. The Religious Right has become too meddling and powerful in this country and rather than direct all our anger toward MTC, better to redirect such energies and outrages toward groups like The Catholic League which fertilizes and festers intolerance, hate mongering, censorship, prejudice and selective civil rights for the "chosen religiously correct".
In response to the withdrawal of the McNally play I telephoned the Catholic League to voice my complaint and distaste for their un-Christian, un-American point-of view. I was met with rudeness, severe intolerance, and narrow- mindedness (of course!) but received the satisfaction of at least having so aggravated the Catholic Leaguer at 7:50 a.m. that I'm sure her blood pressure was high for the entire day! (albeit a small protest, yet a dissent nonetheless.)
It is vital to keep such zealots in check so that they do not gain and wield more power because we are too busy creating art and not paying attention to the escalating civil disobedience and censorship by Right Wingers.
Mr. McNally has done "what small minds and small souls can never forgive, [s]he dared to be different." ("The Road to Mecca")
Read responses to the original cancellation of Corpus Christi: