Dubuque hosts controversial play and film 'Corpus Christi' - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque hosts controversial play and film 'Corpus Christi'

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

A traveling play and film is stirring up some controversy - as well as conversation - in Dubuque.

The play is called Corpus Christi and uses the story of Jesus' life and death as a metaphor for the acceptance of the gay community in society.

The play features a Jesus-like figure, who - in this story - is gay. That, of course, is what stirs controversy, but the play and film's producer Nic Arnzen said the point is not to slam religion but to inspire conversation and perhaps heal some wounds created from a rift between the church and the gay and lesbian community.

"A big misconception of the play is that we're doing a play that represents that Jesus was gay," Arnzen said.

It's playing at Mindframe Theaters in the city of Dubuque, where Corpus Christi actor Mark Colbert and producer Nic Arnzen grew up.

"After six years of touring all around the world, I can comfortably say that the cast feels most taken care of and best treated here in Dubuque," Arnzen said during a lunch break from rehearsal Wednesday afternoon.

The play, however, has not gone without some pushback. Corpus Christi, set in 1950s Texas, takes the idea that Jesus was rejected by many in power and asks people to put that in the framework of the lesbian and gay community in modern day, "just as Jesus himself was outcast, marginalized, forgotten, injured," Mindframe Theaters co-owner Grant Grudzina said.

Grudzina has received about five e-mails this week and a dozen phone calls and visits from people upset by the play's premise.

"People are misunderstanding that the play says that Jesus was gay, that it's trying, in some way, to convince people, but that's not what it is at all," Grudzina said.

"Typically, they have not seen or read the play, but they hear things that sound derogatory and blasphemous," Arnzen said of pushback in any city. "As a Christian myself, I get that, so I'm coming from a place that's not really that defensive. I'm coming from a place of understanding and compassionate to their fears."

So far in Dubuque, there has been no organized opposition to the play, but not everybody agrees with its message.

In a phone conversation Wednesday afternoon, pastor Chip Gatto, of Christ Church of Dubuque, said he and his church affirm what he says is the Biblical view of homosexuality. Not speaking directly to Corpus Christi the play or the film, he said, in general, he believes the Bible speaks of homosexuals as sinners in need of redemption. He said he believes God loves homosexuals but does not condone their lifestyle.

As for the Catholic Archdiocese of Dubuque, it has not released a statement on either the film or the play."

Ultimately Corpus Christi attempts to bridge a gap between the religious and LGBT communities.

"This bullying can go both ways. I mean, we've got religions and organizations effectively bullying people and telling them they're not worthy and they're not going to be accepted and they're going to hell," Arnzen said, "and I think the same can be said once you're hurt....You switch from the victim to the bully, and you tell religion, 'I'm angry at you, and you're no good, and you're not worth following.'...The last thing they'd expect to hear is that this religion is still ready to love you and accept you and not call you a sinner."

The film, "Corpus Christ: Playing with Redemption," documents the play's reception - both good and bad - throughout its tour.

The play will show at Mindframe Theaters at 8 p.m. Wednesday night and 8:30 p.m. Thursday night. The play premiered in 1998, but this particular production has been touring the world since 2006.

There's a public forum for open dialogue at Mindframe Theaters at 7 p.m. Thursday night.

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