November 17, 2012

Gay Jesus Play Brings Charges of Blasphemy in Greece

November 16, 2012

The actors and creative team behind a play that depicts Jesus Christ and his apostles as gay face charges of blasphemy in Greece, according to court officials.

The production of Corpus Christi, a 1997 play by U.S. playwright Terrence McNally, was greeted with protests by priests and the right-wing Golden Dawn movement during its run in Athens in October. The Greek-language staging was eventually cancelled earlier this month.

Greek Orthodox Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus launched a lawsuit against the production and called for charges of "insulting religion" and "malicious blasphemy."

As is permitted under Greek law, charges were laid without specifying who would be charged. Police were told Friday to identify who involved in the play could be summoned to stand trial. No trial date has been set.

If convicted, the actors and creative team face prison sentences of up to two years.

The play's director, Albanian-born Laertis Vasiliou, said prosecutors were misdirecting scarce resources by pursuing his cast, rather than trying to nab tax evaders who have plunged the country into ruin.

"What I see is that there are people who have robbed the country blind, who are not in jail, and the prosecutor turns against art," Vasiliou told Reuters.

Vasiliou said his production, while it has parallels with the story of Jesus, centres around a figure named Jacob who presides over a gay marriage. One of the main themes of the work is corruption in the surrounding state.

Albanian director targeted

The attacks on the play, which faced weeks of protests before being shut down, centred heavily on the Albanian nationality of the director, according to BBC reporter Paul Mason.

Right-wing party Golden Dawn is against immigration and urges deportation of anyone who is not Greek-born, Mason said in a recent interview with CBC's Q cultural affairs show.

Party members often harass immigrants working in Greek markets, Mason said, adding that though the group has very low support among the Greek middle class, it has high support among the police.

Almost every production of Corpus Christi in the United States, including the 2010 revival, has been greeted with angry crowds hurling homophobic abuse in the name of religion, and the original L.A. run was greeted with protests and death threats.

Last month, Greek state television came under fire from the main opposition party and critics for editing a gay kiss out of a broadcast of the British period drama Downton Abbey.