Dewhurst the Critic

Tarleton State cancels student plays after Lt. Gov. condemns production

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst: Everyone's a critic, it seems
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst: Everyone's a critic, it seems

How is Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst like a radical Muslim leader? Because he's decided to get all condemnatory about the play Corpus Christi, thus drawing unwelcome and extraordinary attention to a student production and causing nine plays to be canceled over safety concerns.

The play by Texas-raised and Tony-nominated playwright Terrence McNally, about a gay Christ-like figure called Joshua, was to be part of a performance of one-act plays performed by students at Tarleton State University today, March 27. It is not a minor work (Time's Richard Zoglin called it "witty but not patronizing, as sober and cleansing as a dip in baptismal water") nor is it new (it was first performed in 1998.) Dewhurst, for no readily apparent reason (hey, isn't it an election year?) decided to weigh in on a student performance through a full-blown press release on Friday afternoon:

Every citizen is entitled to the freedom of speech, but no one should have the right to use government funds or institutions to portray acts that are morally reprehensible to the vast majority of Americans.

Texans don't deserve to see their hard-earned tax money used to debase their religion. This lewd display runs completely contrary to the standards of scholastic excellence and common decency that we demand in our publicly-funded institutions for higher learning.

Initially, Tarleton rescheduled the play from 4pm to 8pm and made it an invite-only event. Late last night they folded in the wake of the furore raised by the state's new self-appointed theater critic and religious scholar:
The four student-directed plays, including “Corpus Christi,” scheduled to be performed at Tarleton State University on Saturday, March 27, 2010, have been canceled this evening by the professor. The professor cited safety and security concerns for the students as well as the need to maintain an orderly academic environment as reasons for canceling the plays. The performance of these four class plays will not be rescheduled.
This debacle places Dewhurst in strange company, since McNally was the subject of a fatwa issued by Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad of the UK Shari’ah Court because of the same play.

Contrary to popular misconception a fatwa is not a death sentence, but merely a religious-based legal opinion. Bakri released this one in 1999 because he felt it insulted the message of Islam by insulting Christ. There is an interesting reciprocity component in Islamic tradition when it comes to Christianity or Judaism (the other "People of the Book") To quote Bakri:

The fatwa is to express the Islamic point of view that those who are insulting to Allah and the messengers of God, they must understand it is a crime.

The Church of England has neglected the honour of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. It is blasphemy for them not to take action.

At the time, Bakri made it clear that, since McNally lived in the Dar al-Harb (the non-Muslim world), the fatwa was not legally binding and individuals should not act on it. Which gives it the same strength as, say, a press release that is going to be potentially read by unhinged fundamentalists who might scare people into closing a play down.

So far, Dewhurst has yet to clarify exactly what about the play he found to be a "lewd display." As for the "morally reprehensible to the vast majority of Americans" argument, Dewhurst may reconsider that next time Confederate civil war re-enactors are invited to the capitol.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More David Dewhurst
Cruz Trumps Iowa
Cruz Trumps Iowa
Now the spotlight turns to Texas' problem

Richard Whittaker, Feb. 2, 2016

Jade Helm and Tinfoil Hats
Abbott's Jade Helm
Abbott, Cruz, Jade Helm, and the death of the sane GOP

Richard Whittaker, May 5, 2015

More Theatre
A <i>Wild and Precious</i>
A Wild and Precious "Theraplay" of Gay Experience
One man's 50+ year gay journey comes home to a place that helped launch it

Carmen Rising, Nov. 12, 2014

<i>¡Gaytino!</i> A Universal Experience
¡Gaytino! A Universal Experience
Dan Guerrero's one-man show comes to Austin for one night only

Sarah Marloff, Dec. 3, 2013

More by Richard Whittaker
Panic Fest 2022: <i>Woodland Grey</i>
Panic Fest 2022: Woodland Grey
Fear in the forest in this subtle psychological horror

May 18, 2022

Audrey Diwan Recounts a History of Abortion in <i>Happening</i>
Audrey Diwan Recounts a History of Abortion in Happening
The French director explains why these stories are important

May 17, 2022


David Dewhurst, Theatre, First Amendment, Corpus Christi, Tony McNally

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle