City Codes Delay Gay-Themed Theater's Opening

CLEVELAND (AP) - City officials say they are delaying the opening of a gay-themed theater because of building code violations, not because some plays will involve nudity.

But the owners of the Westside Playhouse say the city has forced them to indefinitely postpone a Jan. 24 opening because of the content of their plays.

"I have been doing this a very long time and I have never known a theater that has to run its season past the building and planning committee," said Charles Lago, artistic director of Westside Playhouse.

Cleveland Community Development Director Linda Hudecek said her department is not censoring the theater or discriminating because of sexual orientation.

The 120-seat theater, which is a former convenience store, does not meet building codes, city officials said.

They also were unsure whether the Westside Playhouse is an "adult entertainment" establishment. The city's zoning code imposes more stringent regulations on where they can be located.

"It's a very indistinct line in the sand," said Robert Vilkas, Cleveland's commissioner for building and housing. "The code says if certain anatomical portions of the body are regularly displayed for entertainment, it's adult entertainment."

The theater has delayed its opening until at least April or May and will either will make improvements to bring the theater up to code or appeal the violations.

The theater had planned a season of serious and comic works, Lago said, with only one of them, "Naked Boys Singing," containing more than a glimpse of nudity.

Lago said he had too much invested in Cleveland to abandon the Westside Playhouse yet.

"I know it's the law," he said. "But I just think it's a little obsessive."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)