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Puff, puff, give? Or just keep puffing? What would Jesus do?

That’s merely one debate surrounding the Sept. 30 “world premiere” of Diamond Dead, illustrator and special-effects artist Brian Cooper’s fantastically and comically horrifying—and, arguably, very un-Christ-like—rock ’n’ roll musical at the District of Columbia Arts Center (DCAC).

Directed by George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead). With songs by composer Richard Hartley (The Rocky Horror Show). And starring shock-rocker Marilyn Manson (Jawbreaker) as, yes, a Mary Jane–tokin’ Jesus Christ.

Wait. Make that “a stage adaptation” of Cooper’s twisted tale of zombie musicians and their deal with the Devil. Minus Manson and Romero, too.

With independent film producer Andrew Gaty facing “all sorts of complications” in financing the proposed $10 million flick, according to his Web site, you won’t see Diamond Dead on the big screen until late 2005—at the earliest. Instead, Cooper’s vision will first play out on the small stage at the DCAC, in a scaled-down and far cheaper production by D.C.’s Landless Theatre Company.

For just $1, Landless Artistic Director Andrew Lloyd Baughman acquired the rights to adapt Cooper’s screenplay. And renting out the tiny 45-seat black-box theater in Adams Morgan will cost the theater troupe only $175 per night. All told, Baughman reports that the 16-night production, performed by 13 area actors and a four-piece rock band, will require less than $5,000 in funding.

And yet, for low-budget local theater, the play has attracted more than its fair share of international outrage, drawing fiery criticism from conservative Christians as far away as the United Kingdom.

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Led by Aberdeenshire, Scotland, resident Scott Morrison, a group calling itself Christians Against Diamond Dead has started an Internet-based petition drive to ban all Diamond Dead performances—or, at least, to remove the scenes the group finds “highly offensive to our faith, our beliefs, and the One we serve.” So far, the campaign has gathered more than 1,200 signatures.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of movie or stage play is being shown,” Morrison says via e-mail, “any portrayal of Jesus Christ contrary to the Biblical portrait of Him is offensive.”

Most offensive to Morrison: “The scene where Jesus is portrayed smoking cannabis and using profane language.” (“Don’t tell Dad,” the supposed Son of God quips.)

Baughman, who opted not to cut the stoner-savior scene from his adapted script, defends the sequence as “a metaphor to show that Jesus understands and can relate to everyone from every walk of life and background.”

But Morrison argues that the fictional portrayal just doesn’t jibe with religious text. “The Bible is clear that Jesus is without sin,” he explains. “Taking drugs is sin”—albeit one listed somewhere among Moses’ other Ten Commandments.

Even worse, the play portrays Jesus as something of a stingy pot-smoker: At one point in the script, Christ is told, “Hey dude, don’t bogart the joint.”

The scene leaves Morrison simply stupefied. “OK, so I am not too sure on what ‘bogart the joint’ actually means,” he e-mails. “I guess it is some sort of American slang??”

A good guess: According to the third revised edition of Richard A. Spears’ Slang and Euphemism: “Bogart” means “to linger with a marijuana cigarette before passing it on to another person; to get more than one’s share of marijuana smoke. From the proper name ‘Humphrey Bogart,’ who did this with a tobacco cigarette in a movie. [U.S. drug culture, mid 1900s–pres.]”

It’s a selfish act, seemingly uncharacteristic of the prophet who, according to scripture, told his followers: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

“If he were to bogart the joint, I would say that would be un-Jesus-like,” admits Baughman, himself a professed Presbyterian.

Baughman doesn’t dismiss such criticism. In fact, he’s openly encouraging it, having set up an online message board for “Morrison and friends to post their arguments.” And “if anyone in the Washington, D.C., area shares Scott’s views,” he adds, “we encourage you to come to DCAC and exercise your right to peacefully protest and make your voice heard!”

Morrison denounces Baughman’s invitations as “an obvious attempt to gain dramatic publicity.”

Still, the Scottish activist similarly requests that concerned Christians gather outside the DCAC “not to protest, but to hand out tracts on the true character of Jesus, and to show His love to the people who visit the theatre.”

Or, in the parlance of “U.S. drug culture, 1900s,” “spread the good news.”

GIVING UP

So the Sept. 18 Good Charlotte show at the 9:30 Club—billed as “A Benefit for Positive Force”—is a total sellout.

No kidding. Never mind that the charity concert, featuring Waldorf, Md.’s, own punky pop stars Benji and Joel Madden, will fill the club to capacity. Check out the ticket price.

Twenty bucks?! Are we talking about the same Positive Force? The D.C.-based youth-empowerment collective that “arose from the punk underground”? The activist group opposed to “excessive materialism” and “economic inequality” that typically organizes free concerts and $5 benefits?

Then why the steep admission fee? Because “it’s technically not a Positive Force show,” says Mark Andersen, co-founder of the charity group.

In fact, there’s no mention of the 6 p.m. Good Charlotte show on Positive Force’s Web site: The only official activity scheduled for that day is a free grocery delivery for low-income inner-city elderly.

Nonetheless, Positive Force will run an information booth at the event. And the group will be passing along concert proceeds to local charities, including the D.C. Books to Prisoners Project and the Prevention Works! needle-exchange program.

See, Saturday’s show was organized by Good Charlotte, not Positive Force. And the band, which refused to comment on the arrangement, can charge whatever it wants.

“Positive Force, as a group, wouldn’t do a benefit that was $20 a ticket,” says Andersen. “There should be more money generated as a result,” he says.—Chris Shott

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