n ethical tempest has struck the normally placid waters of the Fort Point Channel, where a professional theater company aboard a Canadian Tall Ship is performing a Shakespearean spoof that Sail Boston 2000 believes goes beyond the bounds of decency.
''Shakespeare's Dog,'' a tale about artistic integrity, is an original one-act play set in Elizabethan England. Some of the performers are dressed as dogs - street mutts. Therein lies the rub.
Some of the doggie behavior goes too far for Dusty Rhodes, the Sail Boston project manager. These pooches sniff one another, leg-lift, and mimic amorous acts ill-suited to the family audiences that Sail Boston caters to, she says.
It doesn't help that the animals have gutter mouths. Nor does it help that Sail Boston assigned the ship Amara Zee, the play's floating stage, to the Children's Museum wharf. The Caravan StageBarge, which is presenting the play, is under contract with Sail Boston 2000.
Last night, Rhodes vowed to withhold the final payment due Caravan StageBarge. The amount is undisclosed.
Caravan, however, has vowed that show will go on - as written, and as the contract stipulates, with nightly performances through Sunday.
''Who are we if we do not remain true to our art form?'' said Paul Kirby, the Amara Zee's captain and director of ''Shakespeare's Dog.''
''We warned Sail Boston that this is not a children's show. We questioned why they were putting us next to the Children's Museum, but nobody gave it much thought.''
Caravan has braced for a Sail Boston broadside by hiring Mark Tilden, a Framingham attorney. After reviewing Caravan's contract with Sail Boston, Tilden said, he concluded that only mechanical failure or inclement weather can stop the show - not the ''artistic opinions'' of Dusty Rhodes, he added, whose opposition ''smacks of censorship.''
Clearly this storm, which started brewing without notice almost a year ago, has just begun to roil.
Caravan is a Kingston, Ontario, theater company based on the Amara Zee, a ship that tours the Eastern Seaboard. While it is sponsored by The Canada Council and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, two dozen corporate and private donors also add financial support, and it also depends on ticket sales to pay performers' wages and expenses.
Caravan's reputation, garnered during performances at a different Boston Harbor site last year, apparently so impressed Rhodes that she invited the company back with a new show, sight unseen.
''Shakespeare's Dog,'' adapted from a novel that won the prestigious Governor General literary award in Canada in 1987, stars a hound named Hooker who speaks in ''doggie Elizabethan verse that rolls in the dirt and [urinates] on your favorite stump,'' according to a flier that Kirby said was sent to Sail Boston months before the show opened.
In fact, a viewing of Wednesday night's performance left the impression that the play ultimately is a disturbing glimpse at artists - Shakespeare included - who pander to money and power.
Kirby said that performances in seven other ports brought no complaints. ''I now understand `Banned in Boston,''' he said.
Though she hasn't seen the show, Rhodes said she first learned that the visiting seafarers' performance packed a bigger punch than ''HMS Pinafore'' on Tuesday, as Sail Boston was docking 147 ships and welcoming 10,200 sailors to Boston. She said she got between 10 and 15 complaints that day.
Critics included Children's Museum officials who Rhodes said stressed ''that the show was offensive and sexually explicit.''
''I try to answer every complaint, and this thing was clearly not in the spirit of our event, so I asked them to tone it down, lighten it up a little,'' Rhodes said. But they refused.
The museum, meanwhile, absolved itself by insisting that Sail Boston insert a disclaimer in programs. It states, in part, that ''we understood that the play was essentially PG-13 ... and that our staff now recognizes that the content is R-rated.''
Said Rhodes: ''If it's unacceptable to some, it's unacceptable to us.''