Bucking to become the prude capital of...


January 16, 1993

IS FREDERICK bucking to become the prude capital of Maryland?

A few years ago, Mayor Paul Gordon yanked a photo from a City Hall display because it portrayed a woman's breasts.

Last year, Frederick County legislators were tormented over whether to approve funding for a gallery that displayed a painted caricature of a naked George Bush.

Controversy now rages over a 30-second scene in a two-hour play to be performed at the county's arts center.

The run of arts controversies in Frederick all have their own distinct subplots, but this latest howl might seem silliest of all.

A community theater troupe is to open a show next Thursday about the persecution of homosexuals in Hitler's Germany.

In one scene from the play, a Nazi storm trooper appears naked on stage -- for less time than you could hold your breath -- in a brusque exchange with a character to whom he'd ostensibly made love during the previous night. The play's sponsor says that this particular scene is part of the original story and helps define the soldier's barbaric character.

Frankly, few might have thought twice about the play had some elected officials not made such a to-do over the singular scene. They learned of it after the company noted in its advertisement that some patrons might find objectionable some language and limited nudity in the show.

The well-meaning caution only served to loosen the lid on a can of worms.

This is no Jesse Helms vs. National Endowment for the Arts case. Public money isn't going to this show. Still, Frederick officials, lacking the withdrawal of funds as a weapon, hope the county liquor board can do their dirty work.

City officials now are contending that the play's nudity violates the Weinberg Center for the Arts' liquor license. But the liquor law was clearly written with wet T-shirt contests and girlie shows in mind. There is, or should be, middle ground between Venus de Milo and Bubbles the dancer.

Maryland's third largest incorporated city is a place wrestling with change.

One resident said he winces at file news footage of a KKK rally on the outskirts of town, a ghost that belongs in the past.

The light now leading Frederick's future isn't a burning cross, but a crimson snake of tail lights on Interstate 270 as the county's bedroom community for Washington burgeons.

Whether these disputes over freedom of expression are the sounds of old Frederick colliding with the new, or whether they merely reflect a city administration that confuses control with leadership, is hard to say.

Whatever the cause, politicians assuming the role of art police achieve little but to harm the reputation of their towns -- and unwittingly help an obscure play sell a few extra tickets.

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