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(Courtesy photo) Thom Sesma as Sidney and Gayton Scott as Myra in "Deathtrap."
Onstage gay kiss ‘repulsive,’ Salt Lake theatergoer complains

Male kiss crucial part of plot, says theater.

First Published Apr 07 2014 02:34 pm • Last Updated Apr 07 2014 10:10 pm

A theater subscriber has written a letter of complaint to Pioneer Theatre Company about not receiving a notice about a kiss between two men in "Deathtrap," the company’s production of a 1978 murder mystery.

The letter writer, who called herself a theater and arts lover, said she was infuriated because she had brought her teenage son to the play. She called the company’s decision to not disclose "repulsive" content to be "irresponsible and negligent," and referred to the kiss as an "explicit, homosexual display."

At a glance


Pioneer Theatre Company is staging Ira Levin’s long-running Broadway murder mystery.

When » Plays through April 12; Monday-Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Saturday matinees, 2 p.m.

Where » Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City

Tickets » $25-$44 in advance ($5 early-bird discounts before March 21); $5 more on day of show; 801-581-6961 or www.pioneertheatre.org

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Ira Levin’s stage chestnut, "Deathtrap," is a murder mystery about a down-on-his-luck playwright, still noted for the length of its four-year run on Broadway from 1978-1982. The play was adapted into a 1982 movie starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve.

PTC Managing Director Chris Lino said he chose not to reveal the kiss in the "Deathtrap" content advisory to avoid disclosing a major plot point at the end of the play’s first act.

"It’s supposed to be a shock," Lino said, "because you didn’t see it coming."

In his letter of response, Lino questioned why a teenager witnessing a kiss between two men is more morally offensive than witnessing the depiction of a coldblooded murder.

The theater company refunded the subscriber’s money, but posted the letter anonymously on its Facebook page in hopes of sparking a larger conversation. "I think it’s a broader question than just one patron’s complaint," said PTC Marketing Director Kirsten Park. "It’s a broader question about how the theater community talks about art, and I thought her concern, and Chris’ response, addresses that really well."

The theater company has been issuing content advisories for nearly 20 years, which include notice of adult language and any simulated smoking and drinking. The advisories are included in mailings with season ticket renewals and sent in email newsletters before each show’s opening, while the most detailed advisory is posted on the company’s website.

"We were one of the first theaters to do it," Lino said. "When we started doing it, a lot of people laughed at us. Now a lot of theaters do it."

Content advisories can be a double-edged sword, as some theatergoers complain about plot spoilers, Park said. The theater company is used to fielding complaints about content in contemporary plays, and it’s also not unusual for a handful of patrons to walk out at intermission. In the December run of the musical "Elf," some theatergoers complained about the show’s colorblind casting (black actors in roles played by white actors in the movie version).

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What sets apart this complaint is the length and depth of the letter, Park said. The theater company has a national audience through the acting community. Its Friday post had been shared nearly 300 times by Monday afternoon and received 385 comments. The post also has been discussed on theater blogs, Park said.

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