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Winnipeg Fringe Festival

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fringe flap gets ugly

Actress contacts police as anger hits close to home

Posted: 07/22/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 07/22/2014 6:38 AM | Updates

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Theresa Thomson inside her car that was defaced recently, part of the intimidation the actress has faced over the play Lies of a Promiscuous Woman that some have blasted as blasphemous.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Theresa Thomson inside her car that was defaced recently, part of the intimidation the actress has faced over the play Lies of a Promiscuous Woman that some have blasted as blasphemous. Photo Store

I had a conversation with the Virgin Mary Monday.

Of course, millions of people of faith around the world talk to the mother of Jesus every day.

But this one talked back.

And, after we spoke, she was hoping to have a similar chat with the Winnipeg Police Service.

To explain:

As you have no doubt gathered, this Virgin Mary isn't the true-to-the-Bible one. She's more of a Mary, Mary most contrary. A playwright's imagined Mary, really. An actress who plays a controversial, even blasphemous version of the most revered female in Christianity. As such, this Mary is the centrepiece of a play at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival that has the performer who portrays her being variously called a "slut," "whore" and "blasphemer."

Not to her face. On her face.

That face of Mary -- a.k.a. local actress Theresa Thomson -- is featured on a poster of the provocatively titled Lies of a Promiscuous Woman.

What's it about?

Well, it portrays Mary as a woman who has to invent the Immaculate Conception as a way of protecting herself from being killed because of being pregnant out of wedlock.

There's more to the story, of course, but at its core, Theresa suggests it's about misogyny, not religion.

Which brings us back, ironically, to the anonymous people who have been stalking Theresa using the language of misogyny.

Over the course of the last week, she's heard those same three hateful words hurled at her by men hiding out of sight as she walked to her car after recent performances.

Then on Sunday after spending the afternoon watching another play and lunching with friends in the Exchange District -- blocks away from the University of Winnipeg where she's performing, Theresa found "slut" scrawled above the door handle of her car.

"So I'm being watched a lot more than I thought. I'm being targeted directly."

Now you might understand why she wanted to contact police Monday.

And why Theresa said other members of the production, including the play's writer and director, Audra Lesosky, aren't interested in having their faces in the newspaper with her already-prominent one.

Before we get to the issues involved here, some background.

It started last Tuesday, she said, before the first performance.

That's when Theresa said she initially came across "slut" smeared on her poster in front of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

I asked how she felt when she saw it.

"It's hard not to take it personally," she responded. "Because it's in my face."

And, playing Mary, she is the face of the 50-minute play that is largely a one-woman show.

At first, though, Theresa thought it might be just some passerby kid with a Sharpie.

She took a picture of the poster and posted it on her Facebook account.

The online insults started -- slut, whore and blasphemer -- along with "Our Lady is not promiscuous."

And then, more recently -- and perhaps not coincidentally -- two adult men approached Fringe Fest general manager Jason Neufeld outside the theatre centre where Theresa first saw a defaced poster last week.

No doubt identifying Neufeld by his name tag and title, they told him the play should be pulled.

I don't know exactly how Neufeld explained the principle of not interfering with artistic freedom, but by way of example, he could have referred to last year's Fringe Fest play in which a pair of male actors participated in a performance that featured an onstage mayonnaise enema.

And that show went on.

Anyway, Theresa has family members who are people of faith, Roman Catholics among them.

"And we've chatted about whether shows like this should exist."

But they have all come to see it, she said.

And?

"They loved it."

"They don't agree with it," Theresa acknowledged. "And neither do we. We're not presenting it as truth. It's a play. We are not trying to attack."

But obviously that's how it's being interpreted by some, who have retaliated by using cowardly intimidation to attack her.

Lies of a Promiscuous Woman may not be in the same literary league as The Satanic Verses, and Theresa Thomson isn't Salman Rushdie.

The issue, nonetheless, is disturbingly similar.

Religious extremists trying to restrict the rights of all of us to think and speak for ourselves.

Players from the fringe of a different and truly dangerous kind.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Should Fringe officials close a play in reaction to complaints? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2014 B1

History

Updated on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 6:38 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

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