Storm Brews Around Religiously-Themed Play

Does the thought of portraying Mary, the Blessed Mother, as a lesbian offend you?

A new play being produced in Charlotte, North Carolina does just that.  According to a report in theThe Charlotte Observer:

“The play is “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” an off-Broadway hit comedy written by Paul Rudnick. It opened Thursday night in Charlotte and is being staged through Feb. 18 by the Queen City Theatre Company.”

Some Catholics there have staged protests at the theatre, and the bishop of Charlotte, Bishop Bishop Peter Jugis, who, according to a Catholic News Service story in The Georgia Bulletin, said in a letter to the performing arts company:

” ‘The implication that the Blessed Virgin Mary is a lesbian is gravely offensive to Catholics and to all Christians, who hold Mary in the highest regard as the mother of the Savior. . . .Please do not allow this play to be performed. Please cancel these performances out of consideration for the religious sensibilities of Christians and all people of good will.’ “

For several reasons the protest may be somewhat overblown.

First, inThe Charlotte Observeraccount, the theater claims that the play, in fact, does not depict the Blessed Mother:

” ‘It is obvious that (people who make that claim) have not read nor have they seen the play. (The character) Mabel is Mabel. She is not The Virgin Mary. She is a woman, whether gay, straight, or whatever, that is experiencing the divine gift and miracle of a child.’ “

I can’t judge whether that statement is accurate or not because I have not seen the play.  Which is exactly the point.  It is impossible to judge an artistic project without experiencing it first hand.

Let’s assume for a moment, however, that the play does make strong allusions to the Blessed Mother, and that that character is also a lesbian.  Is that offensive to people of faith?

Clearly, there is no evidence in any of the gospels or Christian tradition to indicate Mary’s sexual orientation.  To portray her as a lesbian is obviously poetic  license, not a historical theory.  It would seem to be designed to perhaps shock people, perhaps to make them think, and perhaps to make a point about our assumptions about religion and sexuality.

One assumption that the Catholic protest exposes is that there is something wrong with being a lesbian.  Why else would it be offensive to think of Mary in that way?

In 1998, a New York theater staged Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi, which portrayed Jesus and his apostles as gay men.  Major protest erupted, including death threats against the playwright.  Metal detectors were set up at the theater’s entrance.

I went to see the play, and found it inspiring.  The way the drama worked, the audience came away less with any ideas about the  facts of Jesus’ and the apostles’ sexuality, but with a deeper sense of what it means to be gay and to face religious bigotry.  The play was making a contemporary message, not a historical or theological one.

In a case like this, threats of censorship by the bishop and Catholics do nothing more than encourage more people to attend the play to see what the fuss is all about.

Despite the protests, the theater company has promised that the show will go on.  The production, they say will

” ‘celebrate love, faith, belief, God, and the right to question why we exist and why are on this earth. This production will not be stopped out of fear or pressure.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

0 replies
  1. Ms D
    Ms D says:

    My mother’s a lesbian, it’s a perfectly normal thing for a percentage of mothers to be. Given that works of art are meant to make us think about our lives in different ways, it seems a perfectly valid idea to explore, especially given the church’s poor record when it comes to the treatment of gays and lesbians.

    Reply
  2. Bede Baldry
    Bede Baldry says:

    Now how can you judge before you see. One thing I am sure people are going to want to go and see it as the Church has spoken. The Church does the best advertising. Makes me want to go see it and figure it out for myself.

    Reply
  3. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    The Christian churches that have refused to evolve are suffering now from the division they have caused. People no longer identify holiness with sexlessness. Sex is part of being holy, and holiness transcends sex. I learned this from the Catholic tradition. From my point of view the sexual orientation of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus make no difference at all to the Gospel message that God loves the whole of creation including humans, even those who are offended by the idea that Mary was a lesbian.

    Reply
  4. Brother Benilde Montgomery, O.S.F.
    Brother Benilde Montgomery, O.S.F. says:

    From what I hear and read the play is pretty bad anyway, certainly not Rudnick at his best at all. I guess Bishop Jugis has nothing much more to do than to offend the offended actors: that’s what most Bishops seem to do anyway. As for
    “Corpus Christi”– I thought it was pretty terrible too. Again not Terrence McNally at his best either. I do believe McNally has done some really great stuff but “CC” doesn’t quite make it. What I remember most is having stones thrown at me as I entered the theater while some old ladies knelt in the street and prayer the rosary. Among the stone throwers were some habited Groschel friars, behaving far more scandalously than anything in the play. Actually, they made me feel a bit like St. Stephen.

    Reply

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