The University of Minnesota's theater department is under fire for performing a play this week that many Catholic organizations see as having a hidden anti-Catholic agenda.
The play is Italian playwright Dario Fo's "The Pope and the Witch." It portrays a pope with an anxiety problem resulting from 100,000 starving orphans packing St. Peter's Square. The pope thinks this is the result of a conspiracy by a group of birth control activists. He gets help from a Bantu witch doctor who supports movements related to women's rights and drug addicts. The play, which will run until Friday, also addresses issues of abortion and AIDS.
"We know (the play) is offensive to Catholics because it denigrates the pope," said Pat Phillips, president of Minnesota's Catholic Defense League. "Catholics have become (an) acceptable prejudice and we think that is wrong."
However, Robert Rosen, director of the play and a visiting assistant professor in the university's theater department, likened reactions to the play to a game of telephone, with the plot of the play becoming increasingly inaccurate the more it gets passed around.
Rosen said the play was chosen for its artistic value and the fact that it contains a large amount of political and social material.
"The reason we're doing this is for the students," he said. "It's a very physical, comedic play with large characters. Everything is in front of you, nothing is hidden, which is a style that is important for the students to learn."
But the Catholic Defense League thinks differently. "You don't have to use that particular play to teach those concepts," Phillips said. "Rosen talks about the artistic importance of the play, but I think that's a bunch of baloney."
Space outside the theater was set aside for people who wanted to protest the play starting opening night on March 2, and a police officer will be present at each performance. Rosen said there was a Catholic group at performances on the first two days that sang hymns and prayed the rosary for the duration of the play.
The issue of free speech is something that has been a concern for both supporters and critics of the play's production.
"The issues the play seem to address are the policies of the Catholic Church. You can raise those issues in a scholarly way," Phillips said. "Free speech is fine as long as you do it responsibly and the way that play does it is just not right."
Rosen, on the other hand, said the university has nothing to hide in the play's performance.
"We're accused of having an anti-Catholic agenda, which is the most absurd thing," Rosen said. "We live in a society that permits people to demonstrate and to take that away would be wrong." Marquette University Tribune
Aren't students at the University of Minnesota able to think any more? May only cartoon-like farcical plays full of pratfalls and bathroom humor be performed there?