About 200 demonstrators gathered outside Vienna's famed Burgtheater on Friday to protest the premiere of a play critical of the Nazi past and Austria's treatment of Jews.

Police increased security around the theater, but the demonstration was peaceful and no incidents were reported.The tumult over Austrian playwright Thomas Bernhard's new play "Heldenplatz" - or "Heroes' Square" - has grabbed headlines for weeks in a nation that takes its culture at least as seriously as its politics.

The title, "Heldenplatz," is the name of a large Vienna square where Adolf Hitler appeared in triumph to an estimated 1 million jubilant fellow Austrians after the Nazi annexation in March 1938.

Newspapers and state-run television have indulged in debates about the freedom of the arts, which are heavily sponsored by Austria's 7.5 million citizens in a country that sees subsidized world-class opera, music and drama as part of the national heritage.

During the first two acts of "Heldenplatz" Friday night, some people in the theater called out "Outrage!"but the interruptions were immediately drowned out by demonstrative applause in support of the performance, spectators said.

Outside, protesters conducted heated discussions about the freedom of art.

Police officials said security has been stepped up inside and outside the Burgtheater, a 100-year-old structure at the edge of the Hofburg palace complex from which the Hapsburg family once ruled.

Controversy over Bernhard's play first erupted when two popular tabloids published what they billed as excerpts from his tale of a Jewish family that emigrated in 1938, the year the Nazis annexed Austria to the Third Reich, and returns to Vienna 50 years later.

"In Austria, you must be either National Socialist or Catholic," one Jewish character was quoted as saying. "Nothing else is tolerated, everything else is destroyed."

Another widely attacked quote said to be from Bernhard's script depicted Austria as "a stage where everything has run to seed, turned bad and decayed. A collection of 61/2 million abandoned extras who hate one another, 61/2 million feeble, angry people who continually shout for a director."