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Cancellation of NY Play Protested

May 28, 1998 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Playwrights ranging from Athol Fugard to Tony Kushner have condemned an off-Broadway theater company for canceling production of ``Corpus Christi,″ a new play by Terrence McNally which reportedly depicts a Christlike figure having sex with his disciples.

The theater company defended its action on grounds of security.

``This became an issue of safety, not censorship,″ Manhattan Theater Club artistic director Lynne Meadow told The New York Times on Wednesday.

The play has drawn criticism from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

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Meadow said the theater dropped the play after receiving anonymous telephone calls threatening to burn down the theater, harm its employees and ``exterminate″ the playwright.

In protest, Fugard, the South African playwright, said he would withdraw his latest play, ``The Captain’s Tiger,″ from production at MTC despite his long relationship with the theater.

McNally, another veteran MTC playwright, has declined to speak publicly about the controversy, although his agent issued a statement saying McNally ``greatly regrets that the Manhattan Theater Club has decided not to go forward with plans to produce his new play.″

Other playwrights were more vociferous.

``It’s shocking that in New York City a major theater succumbs to pressure like this,″ said Kushner, author of ``Angels in America.″ ``This is a medieval notion that the arts in the U.S. need to follow the Roman Catholic theological line.″