To be fair, Judge Roy Moore didn’t need any help getting attention. The play, “Judge Roy Moore is Coming to Dinner,” tripled in audience size from one weekend to the next when it opened in 2004.
Both the comedy and the judge are back, and that’s no coincidence, said Wofford. The play opened Thursday at the Carver Theatre in Birmingham, and is being produced by the Actors’ Theatre of Alabama. It will run for nine shows through Oct. 27.
The firebrand Moore, nicknamed the “Ten Commandments Judge,” is running for Supreme Court Justice again. Moore will face County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr. in November.
Moore got that nickname after being removed from the courts in 2003 for refusing remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from federal property. Moore’s narrow victory in the March primary sealed the deal for Wofford. It was time to bring back the play.
“It couldn’t be more timely, as far as I’m concerned,” Wofford said by phone Wednesday.
The play began life as a comical take on the movie “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” with a gay marriage in place of the movies’ interracial marriage. As Wofford crafted the scenes, however, he felt something was missing. Then he read Moore’s ruling in a child custody dispute in Etowah County.
In that case, Moore denied custody of a child to a lesbian mother who told the court her ex-husband had been abusive. The Court of Civil Appeals found the mother’s claims of abuse to be true and overturned Moore’s verdict, but the Alabama Supreme Court overruled on a technicality and gave custody of the child to the father.
In his written opinion, Moore wrote, “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 . . .”
Moore’s use of the word “execution” stirred religious and civil rights leaders to denounce the Alabama judge as a throwback to pre-civil rights days, and it inspired Wofford to use the man’s own words — from various speeches and writings — to deepen the story his was trying to tell.
In the play, the son of a prominent Birmingham family — who have no idea the son is gay — introduces them to his husband Kevin.
Actor Brian Webber reprises his role as Moore. Using Moore’s actual written and spoken words, Webber walks among the other actors on stage. Although they cannot see him, Moore’s words inform the characters’ own thoughts and actions. That’s what Moore the man wanted in the first place, Wofford said.
“He’s trying to put his beliefs in the households of everybody in Alabama, and so he literally comes into this household,” Wofford said. “It’s basically un-American to tell people how they’re going to believe.”
Just like in life, some of the characters on the stage agree with Moore, and some do not.
After the play’s first run in 2004, there were signs that gay marriage was gaining in acceptance, Wofford said, and he began to think his play would loose its relevance. So he put it aside and went on to other things, touring as an actor and working for the Ritz Theatre in Talladega for three years.
“But the pendulum went back the other way, and the attacks, verbal and physical, got worse all over the country,” Wofford said.
And then Moore decided to run for his old office, making headlines just like the old days. Speaking at a Tea Party gathering in Alabama on Saturday, Moore said that gay marriage would be the “ultimate destruction of our country.”
Moore is not mocked in the play, Wofford said. In fact, it’s a comedy from the first line to the last, but it’s a comedy that invites the audience to think. That’s the kind of performance Wofford said he enjoys most.
“I want to have a really good time. I want to be moved, and I want to leave there having an enlightenment or some sort of awakening that I didn’t have before. That’s what I like best in a play,” Wofford said.
Along with the returning Brian Webber, two other actors are reprising their roles in the new production. Susan Johnson Lawrence returns to play the mother, and her real-life husband and director of both the first and second runs of the play, Jamie Lawrence, is playing the father.
‘Judge Roy Moore is Coming to Dinner’
• Presented by Actors’ Theatre of Alabama
• Through Oct. 27 at Carver Theatre, Birmingham.
• Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, plus a Sunday matinee at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 21.
• Tickets are $25; call (205) 777-5857.