A North Carolina judge issued a permanent injuction March 27 allowing Charlotte Repertory Theatre to go ahead with its production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America despite community protests and charges that the show violated a local indecency law.
Charlotte Rep also announced that ticket sales have been so brisk, that an extra week has been added to the show's run.
Because the production contains a scene in which a male character is nude from the waist down, opponents were trying to close the play or have the nude scene removed, based on a Charlotte city law banning public display of sexual organs to a member of the opposite sex.
The play, subtitled "a gay fantasia on national themes," explores several stories, including one about an HIV-infected man chosen by Heaven's angels as a prophet. There is a brief nude scene, in which a nurse examines his Kaposi's sarcoma lesions. There is also a scene of simulated gay sex.
In accordance with the city law, the Blumenthal Center board had threatened to evict Charlotte Rep if the nude scene were not changed. Judge Marvin K. Gray of the city's Superior Court found that the nude scene constitutes "artistic expression," and issued a temporary restraining order against that action. The restraining was made permanent for the rest of the play's run. Charlotte Rep is presenting both parts of the play, Millennium Approaches through March 31 and Perestroika (which may or may not have a nude scene, depending how Umberger stages it) April 17-28. Both parts were scheduled to be presented together April 27 and 28 only, but an extra week of performances of the two plays through May 5.
Kushner, the Pulitzer-winning author of Angels in America, appeared in a forum at Charlotte Rep March 23, using words like "fundamentalist bigots" and "major league wacko" to describe the leaders of an ongoing protest against his play.
Kushner also told attendees at the forum that he's working on a yet-untitled Part 3 of Angels in America, but gave no further details.
Spurred by radio talk shows and a fundamentalist preacher, sign-waving protesters have been marching outside the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte every performance since March 20 to demonstrate their opposition to the nudity and gay themes in the play, which is being presented by Charlotte Rep. Representatives of the theatre said the number peaked at 75 March 20, and was down to a half dozen or so over the March 24-25 weekend.
Counter-demonstrations have also been taking place. Artistic Director Steve Umberger told Playbill On-Line that the number of letters and of protesters has been running consistently 3-1 in favor of the play.
Umberger downplayed the controversy, saying, "I think it's going to get dealt with the same way as in every other city in America: a [judicial] precedent will be established [that artistic expression is excepted from the anti-nudity law]. People will realize that nobody is advocating the moral decline of the citizenry, and we'll all go on with our lives."
Nevertheless, Umberger had said that he intended to go ahead with the play even if Judge Gray had lifted the injunction. "In this case we weren't willing to do it. Plays suffer."
Kushner's script does not specifically mandate a nude scene, but Kushner has said nudity emphasizes Pryor Walter's vulnerability in that scene. Umberger said Kushner told him he supports his vision of the scene, which includes approximately seven seconds of nudity.
Kushner attended the March 22 performance, which was a benefit for the Metrolina Aids Project benefit. He appeared at a cocktail party and made comments from the stage before the curtain rose. He did not refer to the controversy then, or at a forum March 23 -- until TV news reporters questioned him about it. "He was very blunt," Umberger said.
Umberger said landlords had complained previously about a nude scene in a Charlotte Rep production of Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnnie in the Claire de Lune, which Umberger deleted. He also said there were community protests over a touring company of Oh! Calcutta! at Ovens Auditorium several years ago. "But nothing like this," he said.
Charlotte Rep was founded as Actors Contemporary Ensemble (ACE) in 1976 by Umberger and a group of local artists "determined to offer significant new and recent plays," according to archivist David Howe's history in the theatre's program. The troupe performed in a variety of Charlotte-area venues before settling at the Blumenthal Center as a resident company in 1992.