Frederick center could be fined FREDERICK COUNTY


January 21, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

FREDERICK -- Drama could unfold on and off the stage at the Weinberg Center for the Arts tonight when a nude male actor walks from a bed to a shower in a play about homosexuals in Nazi Germany.

The Frederick Arts Council yesterday vowed to defend its First Amendment rights and put the show on, even if that means facing fines and other action by the Frederick County liquor board and the city.

"We've been forced into the position of [practicing] civil disobedience," said Gary Hughes, the Arts Council's board president. "We can't acquiesce to the government regulating the content of the play."

The play, "Bent," opens today for an eight-night run. It chronicles a homosexual's journey toward self-discovery during the horrors of Nazi Germany. Mr. Hughes said playbills and other advertising have contained messages about the play's adult themes, language and nudity.

"Bent" became an issue last week after a city alderman received rTC a complaint about the brief nude scene. Mr. Hughes said the 30-second scene is part of the script of the two-hour play -- and not something written into it to create controversy.

"This is legitimate theater," Mr. Hughes said, noting the play has received critical acclaim across the nation. "This is not a piece of trash."

Mr. Hughes said he expects county liquor inspectors to attend the play and cite them for violating the local liquor law, which prohibits nudity in an establishments licensed to serve alcohol. He said the play could be subject to fines each night the nude actor appears on stage.

But he said the Arts Council, which is licensed to serve alcoholic beverages at the play, doesn't believe the law applies to legitimate theaters.

The center's management committee and the Weinberg family support the council's stance, he said.

But the liquor board could fine the Weinberg Center and the Arts Council or revoke or suspend the center's liquor license.

The liquor board chairman could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Hughes also said he expected the liquor commission to find the center and the arts council guilty of any violations that stem from the expected citations. The arts council, he said, intends to appeal any such action that would be taken by the liquor board.

"What we need is clarification of the law," Mr. Hughes said. "It's only fair to take this to court and let an impartial third party decide. We agree to stand by the decision of the court."

So far, the city has stayed clear of the controversy.

But Mayor Paul P. Gordon said it is the city's responsibility to assist any governmental agency in carrying out legal responsibilities. He also said that the Arts Council, which leases the center from the city, would violate its lease if it fails to conform to the law.

State Del. James E. McClellan, D-Frederick, said he doubted that the liquor board would take any action against the Arts Council.

"The Weinberg Center is a legitimate center," Mr. McClellan said. "People need to use some common sense. From what I've been told, the scene is a guy coming out of the bedroom in the nude and walking across the stage to a bathroom. We can't censor everything in the world."

Mr. McClellan said he would introduce legislation in the General Assembly to amend the liquor law to exclude theaters from the nudity provision if the controversy escalates. He said the county's liquor law is "archaic" and said the Frederick County delegation would support such a change.

Carol Werking, the Frederick Arts Council's director, said the non-profit center relies on liquor sales to support its operation, which includes five full-time workers. Liquor sales, she said, grossed $25,000 last year.

"In a time when all theaters are struggling to make ends meet, losing a liquor license was a consideration for us" in deciding to sponsor "Bent," she said. "But in this instance the greater issue needs to be addressed. We need to have this issue settled once and for all. It could come up again and again."

Mr. Hughes said the controversy that has surrounded the nude scene was not an attempt by either the center or the local production company, Feste Productions, to gain "cheap, sensational publicity about nudity to attract a crowd."

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