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Southern Rapture recalls the local Angels in America flap 

Page 3 of 4

"It shouldn't have ended the way it ended," she affirms. "We should have been able, all of us, to misbehave a little and still have a regional theater, for God's sake."

Angels in the Loaf

We were more than a little naive. In the run-up to the groundbreaking premiere of Angels in America, I thought it was all about the art and the drama. Back then, Hoyle Martin wasn't known as a homophobic ogre. In our Oct. 7, 1995 edition, he's a mayoral candidate, and the debate between Martin and incumbent Pat McCrory doesn't have a single word about arts funding or Angels.

Angels was definitely a big deal to us. That same issue had a huge spread on the "former wunderkind" who would star as Prior Walter in his Charlotte Repertory Theatre debut, collaborating for the first time with Rep founder Steve Umberger. "Poindexter in America" certainly mentions the vicissitudes of growing up homosexual in the South, but somehow the subject of those eight seconds of nudity never comes up.

Worries? I wrote an op-ed in mid-1995 warning that the usual helter-skelter of three-week rehearsal schedules wouldn't cut it for shows as long and as technically demanding as Angels, Parts 1 and 2. Umberger later told me that the rant had been useful in securing budgeting for a full five weeks of rehearsal.

Our political writers kept a watchful eye on local government and the ominous Board of County Commissioners. As late as Dec. 21, Jerry Klein termed the newly elected bunch "Insufferable Fools" in one of our two-word headlines of the day, but arts defunding and censorship weren't among their blunders.

Giddy exuberance reigned as the March 20 premiere approached. We were one of only six cities across the U.S. licensed to present both parts of Angels after their epochal Broadway run. Seattle, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco were the only others to land this prize.

We were particularly proud at the Loaf because we were the only sponsors of Angels in America. "Everybody else apparently took note of the controversial subject matter and turned tail," I crowed in our celebrated cover story that hit the streets on March 13. That lack of bedrock support from Charlotte's vaunted business community would have me -- and arts organizations around town -- eating crow for years to come.

Our cover story featured a lengthy Q&A with playwright Tony Kushner. Both of us were guilty of tossing caution to the winds. It was the height of the Clinton Years. The horrors of the Reagan administration that Kushner railed against in Angels -- the homophobia, the callousness towards AIDS victims -- were things of the past. Let Limbaugh fume as much as he liked, Slick Willie would surely be re-elected. The president's penis hadn't yet made the front page. Nor had Poindexter's.

During our interview, Kushner's fatal response came when I voiced surprise that his un-Christian depiction of angels and heaven hadn't sparked any reactions:

"I'm sort of disappointed that the religious right has left the play alone as much as it has. I mean it's all paid for by the NEA! That seems to have escaped everybody's attention. The crazy people came out in Clearwater, Florida, and made a little bit of a fuss. But it was very unimpressive fuss for those people."

Buried in the 49th paragraph of our cover story, down near the bottom of page 18, Kushner's taunt didn't figure to cause as much harm as the front-page feature that followed in the Observer. Our newshound of the day, Vance Cariaga, pointed out the folly of my humble presumption. The Rev. Joe Chambers had read the Loaf story, he'd seized upon the NEA taunt, and he'd reprinted it alongside an excerpt from the Observer to rally his followers.

Cariaga and I double-teamed the Angels opening in the Loaf edition that hit the streets on March 27. With breathtaking swiftness, the repercussions of the Rep ruckus were painfully clear.

"The bad news is that future local government funding of the arts is now up for grabs," I wrote in my review of Part 1: Millennium Approaches. "The good news is that thousands of outraged and embarrassed citizens are now voicing their support, snapping up Angels tickets in record numbers, and learning at a very opportune moment just how good Charlotte Rep can be."

Overall, we swaggered with confidence about the future -- and impudence toward the bad guys. When the infamous Don Reid prolonged a city council meeting by insisting on reading an 80-second excerpt from Angels into the record, I videotaped the performance and reviewed it.

"You'll be surprised to learn that the bespectacled Councilman's performance was quite spirited," I gushed. "Expression nearly crossed his face on numerous occasions."

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