via Sheen Center Cancels Event Featuring Neil LaBute Play About ‘Mohammed’ – NYTimes.com. [“Mohammed” Gets A Boner by Neil LaBute]
A downtown Manhattan performance center has canceled an event featuring a new play by Neil LaBute with a title making reference to “Mohammed,” on the grounds that the play is offensive to Muslims.
The event, called “Playwrights for a Cause” and featuring four new short plays about censorship in the arts, was set to take place on June 14 at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture in Greenwich Village, as the opening of the Planet Connections Theater Festivity, a monthlong arts festival at various locations.
On Tuesday, the Sheen Center canceled the contract for the event, which was organized as a benefit for the National Coalition Against Censorship.
William Spencer Reilly, the executive director of the Sheen Center, said in an email that the play and its title was not in keeping with the mission of the center, which opened last year with funding from the archdiocese of New York and is named for former Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
“When an artistic project maligns any faith group, that project clearly falls outside of our mission to highlight the good, the true, and the beautiful as they have been expressed throughout the ages,” Mr. Reilly said, referring to the center’s mission statement, which describes it as serving Catholic and non-Catholic audiences alike.
The Sheen Center, he added, “will not be a forum that mocks or satirizes another faith group.”
Mr. LaBute’s one-person play, which was written for the event, is about an actor asked to perform in an offensive satire. A description posted online reads: “The prophet ‘Mohammed’ stands on a barren stage, recalling the first time he made love to a white woman. Is this reality or a theatrical convention? Where do the lines between ‘satire’ and ‘censorship’ intersect or is nothing sacred when it comes to the theater?”
The play’s title refers to “Mohammed” as having an erection. In an email, Mr. LaBute said that the play did not depict “the actual prophet ‘Muhammad’ (spelled differently than my title),” but declined to say more, citing his desire to preserve the audience’s sense of surprise.
In an email, Glory Kadigan, the founder of Planet Connections, described the play as “a discussion of whether or not it’s all right to poke fun at religion or religious figures.” She said the group did not have titles or scripts for the plays when the contract was signed. “None of us knew what the writers would write,” she said. The group is seeking another stage, she said.
Mr. Reilly said he had signed the contract in February but had only become aware of the play’s title earlier this week, after a staff member noticed it on the Planet Connections website. After seeing the script, he decided to cancel the event in light of what he called the play’s “clear offense to Muslims.”
The other plays written for the occasion — by Erik Ehn, Halley Feiffer and Israel Horovitz — treat censorship issues relating to race, gender and sexuality, which were also set to be discussed in a panel discussion following the performances.
Mr. LaBute, in a statement, said the Sheen Center was “was absolutely within their right” in canceling the contract but said he was saddened by the decision.
“This event was meant to shine another light on censorship and it was unexpected to have the plug pulled, quite literally, by an organization that touts the phrase ‘for thought and culture’ on their very Web site,” Mr. LaBute said. “Both in life and in the arts, this is not a time to hide or be afraid; recent events have begged for artists and citizens to stand and be counted.”
Remind the staff at Sheen Center of that very point. Staff emails here.
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