Protest May Hit Castro Over ’Corpus Christi’ Doc
A new production of Corpus Christi, Terrence McNally’s controversial play that depicts Jesus as a gay man in 1950s Texas, has some Catholics in an uproar ahead of the premiere of a documentary about the work that will screen at the Castro Theatre next weekend.
A protest outside the April 29 event at the Castro could materialize, said officials with 108 Productions, which has staged its touring version of the play since 2006, although there is no indication yet of any organized response.
"Surprisingly, now it seems our biggest group of protesters in our six-year history may show up in San Francisco, a city where we assumed we would be most protected from such attacks," said Nic Arnzen, the play’s director and film’s co-director/producer. "Luckily, we have found the city rallying around us as individuals and organizations come forward to stand in solidarity with us and our quest to spread the message of love and equality."
An online petition, based on a series of previous anti-Corpus Christi petitions by the right-wing Catholic site America Needs Fatima, has drawn over 7,000 signatures to date. The petition denounces 108 Productions’ version of the play - along with the documentary Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption - as "unspeakable blasphemy" and "prejudicial outrage." It also calls on the Castro Theatre to "immediately cancel the showing of this movie and play, and to offer a public apology to Our Lord Jesus Christ and to all God fearing Americans."
The controversy has both made sense to and confused Arnzen. He can understand someone being outraged if they had limited information about the play and film but, on the other hand, is confused that people would come to conclusions without seeking more information.
"Nearly every person railing against the play and film has not seen or read it," said Arnzen. "The bottom line is they are upset that we would imagine Jesus as a gay man. As if being gay was a sin, which of course hits the heart of the matter."
James Brandon, who has played the lead role of Joshua since the production’s inception six years ago and is now a co-producer of the play and film, describes the message of the play in one word, "love."
"No matter what gender, sexual identity, what color the skin, where you’re from, we can all understand the capacity to love one another," Brandon said.
He believes that everyone can learn to live together in this world and actually embrace each other’s diversities as gifts rather than faults.
The play has been described as blasphemous and a direct attack on religion by religious groups for years, but Brandon believes it’s actually the complete opposite and considers the play a "piece of art."
"If a piece of art challenges your beliefs, makes you actually feel something deep within, what a beautiful thing to explore," he said. "That’s the gift of art - you have an expressive outlet that allows you to go within and delve deeper into your own beliefs."
He added that the most frustrating part is how anti-gay religious groups can claim to have an informed opinion without being informed about what the play is truly about.
Representatives from the office of the Archdiocese of San Francisco declined to speak to the Bay Area Reporter . The Castro Theatre did not respond to an email message seeking comment.
However, Cathy Renna, who is helping with publicity for 108 Productions, told the B.A.R. Wednesday that the theater remains committed to the screening and has no plans to cancel it.
In March 2010, 108 Productions staged Corpus Christi at New Spirit Community Church in Berkeley and there were no protesters.
The upcoming documentary screening launches 108 Productions’ I Am Love campaign, whose mission is to change the story on religious bullying and homophobia, in all ages and walks of life, by first learning to love the self. The documentary will be combined with performances of the play in select cities.
The plan will continue touring in various cities that have reached out to producers in response to anti-gay bills or other proposals such as Knoxville, Tennessee, where residents are currently dealing with fallout over the "Don’t say gay" bill. The producers also are targeting St. Louis, Missouri, which is known to have one of the highest concentrations of Catholics in the country.
The San Francisco premiere is sponsored by Soulforce, which is in the midst of its annual Equality Ride; the Church of Uncommon Hope; and MCC in the Valley church in southern California.