NEW YORK—The cancellation of a series of plays about artistic censorship by a New York performance space on the grounds that it might be offensive to Muslims could mark a troubling victory for censorship, PEN American Center said today.

The Sheen Center, where PEN recently hosted several events as part of the 2015 World Voices Festival of International Literature, cancelled last Tuesday the contract for “Playwrights for a Cause,” a series of four new plays on the topic of censorship organized as benefit for the National Coalition Against Censorship. The event featured a new one-man play by Neil LaBute on the theme of satire with a title that makes sexually explicit reference to “Mohammed.” In an email to the New York Times, Sheen Center Director William Spencer Reilly said that the play—the content and title of which had not been included in previous project descriptions—was not in line with the Center’s mission.

The event organizers are currently seeking an alternate venue. LaBute has withdrawn his play in hopes of refocusing attention on the event’s broader mission to explore and debate censorship.

“New York is known for one of the world’s most vibrant and edgy cultural scenes, embracing the free flow of diverse ideas that makes the city unique,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center. “While private cultural institutions are entitled to make their own decisions about what to present, we hope LaBute’s play finds a home in the city’s lively performance community so that audiences can judge it for themselves. If an event intended to challenge censorship is disqualified from even exploring some forms of ‘forbidden’ content for fear of offense, it will mark an unmistakable victory for the censors.”


Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S. writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide.

Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager:, (646) 779.4830