| Birmingham -- The story in a nutshell: two gay men decide to get married in California and they come home to Alabama to tell their respective parents about, number one, being gay, and number two, being married to one another.
So why then is the play called "Judge Roy Moore is Coming to Dinner?"
Woven throughout the performance are bits and pieces of an opinion Moore handed down with a 2002 Alabama Supreme Court ruling in a custody dispute. The mother - a lesbian, sued the father - a heterosexual, for custody of their children. The court ruled in favor of the father. But then-Chief Justice Moore lambasted homosexuals in a 40 page suffix to the ruling, defining the lifestyle as an 'intolerable evil,' 'detestable' and an 'abomination' that needed to be stopped.
"The story for me or at least this play is that Roy Moore went to the added eight or ten steps to issue this vehement, hate filled ruling."
That's playwrite Tom Wofford, who says Roy Moore's character doesn't have any dialogue; he just appears in a sort of "Greek chorus." He's more of a "Rod Serling-Twilight Zone" type character who just shows up. Actor Brian Webber plays Moore.
"Judge Roy Moore acts as an unseen protagonist. He represents societal norms and expectations. So he comes in throughout the play -- and in Judge Moore's own words, he gives us his take on the situation."
Here's what Moore actually wrote in the custody case about -quote- "disfavoring homosexuality." Webber performs it in the play:
"The State carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle."
Throughout the opinion, Moore's words are backed up and footnoted with biblical, historical and even legal facts - from excerpts of the book of Leviticus to centuries old British law to examples of Alabama's 1901 Constitution that forbids sodomy.
Tom Wofford is no stranger to gay-themed plays. He's produced "Angels in America," about living with AIDS and "The Laramie Project," about the murder of gay Wyoming college student Matthew Shepherd. He says his plays give voice to a growing gay community.
Even though a new study by the Urban Institute ranks Alabama tenth in the nation in the number of older gay couples, he says gays in general have been relatively quiet when it comes to issues that negatively affect them.
"I think the gay community in Alabama - they've felt so disenfranchised that they need something like this to speak for them. I think it goes beyond frustration. I mean so many gay people that I know are - they gave up expecting equality a long time ago. (edit) I don't know anything else I can do but write a play about it."
"Theatrical productions are just one more way of communicating positions with respect to social issues."
That's Dr. Steven Parker, who is professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Montevallo.
"It is a way to reinforce positions. It is a way to communicate positions. It is a way to have some fun with them. It's a way to point out some perhaps hypocrisies or inconsistencies that exist in some circles. So I think it's real important to do these kinds of things."
He says gays in Alabama and the South haven't really spoken up about the same-sex marriage issue that's enveloped California, Oregon and Massachusetts. Wofford says his play is intended to help the dialogue along.
"It's very divisive social issue. It's causing a lot of schism between our American family. And so that's sort of what goes on in the play. The issue causes a lot of problems in the two families that are in my play..."
One of those families trying to come to grips with homosexuality is the Whitings -performed in the play by Jamie and Susan Lawrence...
Mrs. Whiting "He is a wonderful son."
Dr. Whiting "I love him too Cara."
Mrs. Whiting "Then please Robert, try for once to love him like I do, like a mother. Do you want him to have to sneak around the dark in parks or on business trips like Patty Headley's ex-husband?"
Dr. Whiting "Cara!"
Mrs. Whiting "Oh please Robert, I'm not that naïve. Do you want him doing that in shame... and in secret? When he's only trying to express the feelings that God gave him."
Dr. Whiting "What I have to do is for his own good. I'm simply trying to alleviate suffering."
Mrs. Whiting "Then stand by him. We can't change Robby. You have to learn to live with the parts of the world that aren't to your liking. Even if your son is one of them."
Tom Wofford says he started writing the play -- about two gay characters and their families -- years before Moore stepped into the national spotlight.
"...and when his ruling came out that was so unnecessarily went out of its way so much to condemn gays so harshly -- that he suggests that it would be perfectly permissible that homosexuals be put to death, I thought that really changed the dynamic of what would be going on in my play."
The dynamic's changed at the Alabama Supreme Court as well. Judge Moore's Ten Commandments monument was removed last August and then Judge Moore was removed a few months later.
Since then, he's become a hero to many conservatives with his plea that government and judicial officials have a constitutional duty to acknowledge God.
Again, Dr. Stephen Parker.
"It will be interesting to see how popular it is and what kind of response there is - not only among people that support the positions that are taking in the play, but also those that find it offensive. It'll give us an opportunity to sort of measure - I guess - public temperature."
For his part, Moore issued a statement condemning the play, saying it -quote- result of federal activism in our court system -end quote-- and that society and the American family are being denigrated by same sex marriage.
Wofford says it's pointless to rail against something that he hasn't seen. The play doesn't open until tonight at UAB's Bell Theatre.
~Steve Chiotakis, June 18, 2004