The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, a non-profit Catholic organization based in Spring Grove, PA, protested the new play with banners reading, "We offer God this public act of reparation and vehemently protest against the blasphemous play The Testament of Mary" and "Blasphemers believe free speech is absolute. But there is no such thing as a right to lie... to defame... to offend God!" Others held signs that read, "Stop blaspheming our Lord NOW!"
A group of nearly 50 protesters, among them several children, stood across from the Walter Kerr Theatre on 48th Street, reciting the rosary and saying the Lord's Prayer. The group dispersed shortly following the start of the 8 PM performance.
The non-profit group also protested the film release of "The Da Vinci Code" and the exhibition of the Andres Serrano photo "Piss Christ" last fall at the Edward Tyler Nahem in Manhattan. According to its website, the American TFP dedicates itself to the "moral crisis shaking the remnants of Christian civilization."
In a statement on the American TFP page, it characterizes the novel on which the play is based as "not only blasphemous but heretical. It presents a caricature of the Blessed Virgin Mary and implicitly denies all of the dogmas the Church has defined in her regard."
Author Tóibín, as well as actress Fiona Shaw, who portrays Mary, and director Deborah Warner, also came under fire. "It is noteworthy that besides being written by an avowed homosexual, at the Walter Kerr Theatre The Testament of Mary is being performed and directed by open lesbians, namely, Irish actress Fiona Shaw and Deborah Warner," the group states on its website.
The organization is urging "fellow Catholics and all God-fearing Americans to reject [the play] — legally and peacefully — offering their prayers and heartfelt public reparation for the offense it gives to Almighty God, Mary Most Holy, and the Catholic Church."
The producers offered the following statement to Playbill.com regarding the protest. "The Testament of Mary explores, in a very serious way, something that matters deeply to all of us. It is neither anti-Mary nor anti-Christianity, but rather a portrait of a very human woman – a mother – who is trying to make sense of and come to terms with the tragic death of her son. We respect the right of protesters to express their viewpoint and ask that they come to our play with an open mind and let the work speak for itself."
A representative for the production said that the first preview of The Testament of Mary was met with an extraordinarily enthusiastic response. Shaw took three curtain calls for her solo performance.
According to producers, "InThe Testament of Mary the mother of Jesus tells her story of her son’s Crucifixion, which up until now has not been heard."
Tony Award nominee and four-time Olivier Award-winning actress Shaw reunites with director Deborah Warner for the one-woman work that is playing a limited 12-week engagement through June 16. The Testament of Mary will officially open April 22.
The production marks the first collaboration between Shaw and Warner to premiere in the U.S. The two have earned acclaim for their work on Medea, Happy Days, Mother Courage, Hedda Galber, The Good Person of Sichuan and The Waste Land.
Tóibín's works include "The Blackwater Lightship," "The Master," "The South, Homage to Barcelona," "The Heather Blazing," "The Story of the Night" and "Brooklyn."
The producers are Scott Rudin (The Book of Mormon, "The Social Network"), Stuart Thompson, Jon B. Platt, Roger Berlind, Broadway Across America, Scott M. Delman, Jean Doumanian, Roy Furman, Stephanie P. McClelland, Sonia Friedman Productions/Robert G. Bartner, The Araca Group, Heni Koenigsberg, Daryl Roth and Eli Bush.
The Walter Kerr Theatre is located at 219 West 48th Street. Tickets are available at the Walter Kerr Theatre box office, at telecharge.com and testamentonbroadway.com or by calling (212) 239-6200. Student rush tickets are also available.