A performance of a play about a gay Christlike figure that has sparked protests has been canceled at Tarleton State University in Texas.

Critics say the Terrence McNally play, “Corpus Christi,” which premiered in 1998 in New York, is blasphemous.

The university said in a written statement Friday evening that the class’s professor had canceled the performance because of concerns about the students’ safety, “as well as the need to maintain an orderly academic environment.”

The university’s president had said earlier Friday that he thought the play was “offensive, crude and irreverent.” But he said he had made no effort to halt the production, because to do so would violate the principle of free expression.

 

“Like every citizen of the country, the student who chose to direct excerpts from the play enjoys his right to free speech,” President F. Dominic Dottavio wrote in a letter on the Tarleton State University Web site. “This right is protected by law even if the speech is offensive to others.”

The play depicts a Christlike character in modern-day Texas. The Christ figure performs a marriage ceremony for two of his disciples, who are also gay.

Performances were to be for students only and would not have been open to the public or the news media.

“The play is a project for a class. It is not intended for the public any more than a student’s math assignment,” Dottavio wrote.

“I am both a Christian and gay,” John Otte, the producer, said in a video interview. “This play deals with that subject matter, I believe, in a tasteful way. ... I don’t believe in a God who hates me for who I am.”

“Never did I choose this play to attack Christians,” he said. “I am one.”

The play is routinely condemned by religious leaders whenever its production is announced, most recently two years ago in Sydney, Australia. When it opened 12 years ago at the Manhattan Theater Club, the playhouse received bomb scares, and its playwright, McNally, endured multiple death threats.

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