Last evening's protest(Photo © Stephan Stancu)
Last evening's protest
(Photo © Stephan Stancu)
Yesterday, an estimated 250 people assembled in front of Dillons Restaurant and Lounge on West 54th Street to demonstrate against Mary, Like a Virgin, a cabaret show at the venue. Priests circled the block, deeming the show blasphemous and leading their congregations in prayer. Organizers handed flyers to passersby. Some of the protesters held placards and unfurled banners reading "SHAME," while others held statues of religious icons. In the ensuing commotion, the start of the performance was delayed by 30 minutes.

Written and performed by Braden Chapman, who goes by the drag name "Mimi Imfurst," the musical irreverently tells the story of the Virgin Mary's early life as a young Jewish girl. Through pop, rock, rap, and musical theater numbers, she recounts her relationship with God, her escape with Joseph on the back of a mule, and her struggle with eating disorders. Eric C. Smith, a deacon at the First Parish Congregational Church in Portland, Maine, is the show's dramaturg.

On Monday, May 1, the NYPD informed Chapman that the Priestly Order of the Society of Saint Pius X had filed for a permit for yesterday's demonstration. Chapman says that this was the first he had heard about an organized protest, though "I had gotten emails from concerned people who told me that I was going to go to hell." Similar emails have been sent to the show 's producers and to TheaterMania.com, the play's ticketing agent. Chapman does not believe that any of the correspondents has attended the show.

One of the demonstration's organizers, Jeffrey Smith, admitted that he had not seen Mary but stated that another person involved in the leadership had walked out after seeing a portion of it. Though he asserted that the protest was not intended to intimidate the producers, Smith stated his belief that the show constitutes "bigotry" that would not be tolerated if aimed at a religious group other than Catholics. "Imagine if you had a drag queen playing Mohammed's wife," he said. "You'd have the bomb squad here." Several of the demonstrators, such as Joseph Purcell, compared their protest with the uproar that was recently caused by a Danish newspaper's publication of cartoons of Mohammed. They also indicated that they plan to protest the film version of the novel The Da Vinci Code, which posits that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene had children.

Despite the late start, the show went on last evening. The theater was filled nearly to capacity, and Chapman ad-libbed several remarks about the rally during the performance. At the end, he thanked the audience for coming "in spite of...the weather." Earlier this week, Chapman told TheaterMania that he knew the material would make people "upset." He added: "Traditionally, queer people have been turned away from religion, and I'm trying to break down stereotypes that we're not religious." He intends to revive the show this Christmas.