Religious protests greet Broadway play’s first performance

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The world premiere of Colm Toibin's stage play The Testament of Mary, a one-woman show starring actress Fiona Shaw and directed by Deborah Warner, was marred by protests on Thursday, March 26, the night of the production's first Broadway preview.

The protesters were members of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, a not-for-profit organization with its national headquarters in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, "concerned about the moral crisis shaking the remnants of Christian civilization", as noted on the TFP website.

According to information provided by the production, the show takes place after the Crucifixion where Mary, the mother of Jesus, tells her own story about her son - "the one which has not been heard". Based on Toibin's 2012 novella of the same name, The Testament of Mary features scenery by Tom Pye, costumes by Ann Roth, lighting by Jennifer Tipton and original music and sound by Mel Mercier.

The protesters, numbering more than three dozen, carried a banner reading "we offer God this public act of reparation and vehemently protest against the blasphemous play The Testament of Mary".

A story on the TFP website states: "It is noteworthy that besides being written by an avowed homosexual, at the Walter Kerr Theatre The Testament of Mary is being performed and directed by open lesbians, namely, Irish actress Fiona Shaw and Deborah Warner".

The website posting, which goes on to describe the group's objections to the work in great detail, also calls the show "not only blasphemous but heretical", adding: "It presents a caricature of the Blessed Virgin Mary and implicitly denies all of the dogmas the Church has defined in her regard."

The posting ends with the organisation urging "their fellow Catholics and all God-fearing Americans to reject it - legally and peacefully - offering their prayers and heartfelt public reparation for the offense it gives to Almighty God, Mary Most Holy, and the Catholic Church."

In response to the protests, the production released a statement. It said: "The Testament of Mary explores, in a very serious way, something that matters deeply to all of us. It is neither anti-Mary nor anti-Christianity, but rather a portrait of a very human woman – a mother – who is trying to make sense of and come to terms with the tragic death of her son. We respect the right of protesters to express their viewpoint and ask that they come to our play with an open mind and let the work speak for itself."

The Testament of Mary marks Toibin's debut on Broadway. The show will also be Shaw's and Warner's first time there since their Broadway debuts in a 2002 production of Medea.

The Testament of Mary is scheduled to play a 12-week limited engagement at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway until June 16, with an opening date of April 22.

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