Playwrights Protest Theatre’s Cancellation of ‘Corpus Christi’ 

Terrence McNally
Catholic Censorship & “Christian” Terrorist Threats are Causes 
“Kill the Staff, Burn Down the Theatre, and Exterminate Author!”
Terrence McNally’s new play, Corpus Christi has given birth to a plethora of “Christian” terrorist threats.  The play has been said to revolve around a fictional Christ-like character who interacts sexually with his 12 disciples.

The production, until cancelled by management, was to have opened at the Manhattan Theatre Club, one of New York’s premiere theatrical venues.  Mr. McNally has had other hits, such as his comedy  Love!  Valour!  Compassion!

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which claims— in an oxymoron-- to be the largest non-violent group Roman Catholic civil rights organization, initiated a widespread Roman Catholic letter-writing campaign against McNally’s latest production. Then came a host of threats.

“Christians”, presumably, who reportedly love their enemies and who pray for those who despitefully use them, are instead bitterly threatening murder, arson, and general mayhem. 

Trans World Airlines (TWA) has confirmed to reporters that it informed the embattled theatre that the inter-continental airline will withdraw its financial support from the Manhattan Theatre Club if Corpus Christi is to be staged.

From the playwright’s or an artist’s standpoint, the brainless branding of a play prior to its showing, accomplished by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, disallows its creator the right to see his creation freshly judged by its audiences, and not by censoring religious zealots. Joe Mantello, the man who was to have directed Corpus Christi, put it this way: 

“A new play is a very fragile thing. No one will ever see it the same way. We can never have an untainted experience.”

McNally’s  peers are standing behind him.  Response to the cancellation by well-known playwrights has been swift and unsparing.  South Africa’s Athol Fugard says he’s withdrawing his own play scheduled at the Manhattan Theatre Club. A number of Mr. Fugard’s plays have been produced by the Club.

Tony Kushner, author of Angels in America described the cancellation as “appalling” and said he and others were talking of a protest-uprising utilizing the talents of celebrated playwrights.

The Club, now perceived as bowing to Catholic demands for censorship and to “Christian” terrorism, denies that its capitulation to such terrorism has been inappropriate.  “This became an issue of safety, not censorship,” insists Lynne Meadow, the theatre’s artistic director. 

Anonymous telephone-threat-makers, according to the theatre club’s administrators, have promised to burn down the theatre, kill its staff and “exterminate” the playwright.

Terrence McNally’s response to what has become a theatrical scandal was made after several days of silence. Through his agent, author McNally said he “greatly regrets that the Manhattan Theatre Club has decided not to go forward with plans to produce his new play, Corpus Christi.”

Athol Fugard, said that by withdrawing his play, The Captain’s Tiger, from the theatre club that he hoped to make known “the strongest possible protest” of which he was capable.  Fugard said his decision to withdraw has been painful. But, he said, he’d been shocked and disturbed by the theatre club’s failure to stand up for artistic freedom.

He writes: “In yielding to the blackmail and threats of the Catholic League the theatre management has compromised one of the basic freedoms of democracy—the Freedom of Speech—and they have done it by censoring themselves and collaborating in the attempt to silence Mr. McNally.”

Fugard had been grateful, he said, because of the Manhattan Theatre Club’s support for his plays attacking apartheid in South Africa.  Having known as much free speech as he did, however, convinced him of how we must enshrine free speech as a foremost value.

“It was those very years of apartheid that have taught me what Freedom of Speech really means,” he said. 

Tony Kushner said “It’s shocking that in New York City a major theatre succumbs to pressure like this…This is a medieval notion that the arts in the U.S. need to follow the Roman Catholic theological line.”

Upon receiving notice that the Manhattan Theatre Club had cancelled the McNally play, the Roman Catholic “civil rights” organization announced it was “delighted”.  The Catholics felt, they said, that “someone had to pull the plug from this despicable play.”

Threatening retaliation against any other theatre that might consider running Corpus Christi, however, the true colors of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights shone brightly. It warned that any such theatres would be placing themselves at the center of “a war that no one will forget.” 

“We’ll remember the Inquisition, the Holocaust and the Catholic genocidal role in Rwanda too,” replied gay activist Bob Kunst.