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Groups Protest Gay Jeasus Play

October 14, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ Competing demonstrations by religious groups and First Amendment advocates at the opening of a play with a gay Christlike character couldn’t upstage its opening night.

``It was very powerful, very moving. It was the most painful crucifixion you’ll ever see,″ said Richard Berg, 56, after seeing Tuesday’s performance of ``Corpus Christi″ by multiple Tony Award-winner Terrence McNally.

About 2,000 people sang hymns to protest the play while 400 First Amendment advocates held a counter-demonstration nearby. Both sides were kept across the street from the Manhattan Theatre Club.

``Corpus Christi″ depicts a gay Jesus-like figure named Joshua surrounded by gay apostles. It has been the center of controversy for months, well before previews began Sept. 22.

In May, after the play’s content was disclosed, theater officials reported anonymous death threats against actors, audiences and McNally. A private security firm was hired; playgoers passed through metal detectors Tuesday night.

``The Manhattan Theatre Club has supported McNally’s right to express his vision freely,″ said theater spokesman Chris Boneau. ``MTC understands that some people have disagreed with the content of McNally’s play and firmly supports and respects the public’s right to express their opinions.″

William Donohue, president of the protesting Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, called the play ``a filthy attack on Christianity and on Roman Catholicism in particular.″ He said he saw it over the weekend.

Actor Wallace Shawn, television producer Norman Lear and playwright Tony Kushner were among those who said the play should go on.

``In my opinion, the play is not blasphemous,″ Kushner said. ``The important thing is to support freedom of speech.″

Theatergoers, meanwhile, sang the play’s praises.

``I went in with very mixed feelings, and I came out really liking it a lot,″ said Karen Taub, 53, a New York painter who is Catholic and ``pretty conservative.″

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