Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Also see Kevin's review of Bug
Large ensemble plays are an endangered species these days. Due to budget cuts in certain regions, playwrights are now encouraged to write works for smaller casts - especially for smaller theatre troupes who are trying to get established. Luckily, a new collective called The Baby Factor defies this reasoning. Their first production was Raised in Captivity, which had five characters. They have extended to 13 with the Terrence McNally piece, Corpus Christi.
The Baby Factor is comprised of a group of Palm Beach actors who wanted to create their own opportunities. Tom Lacey, Jennifer Gomez, Kenneth Thompson and Stephen Sweeny, along with Janet Weakley and Kelly Kingman (as stage manager) recently presented Captivity at a performance space in Little Havana. Since then, Gomez has been studying overseas while Thompson is pursuing endeavors elsewhere. Lacey and Sweeny are continuing operations further North, while recruiting new member Telys Marti (in her stage directorial debut) to stage Corpus Christi at a newly constructed space, the New Light Gallery. Got that so far?
The actors in Corpus Christi tell a story, creating a coming of age mirror between a boy named Joshua and Jesus Christ. In the aforementioned Texas town, Joshua goes through the entire New Testament just like Jesus. From his birth in a motel (manger), to his adolescence (carpentry), meeting his friends (disciples), and ultimate betrayal, the stories of Joshua and Jesus get blurry as they head toward the same conclusion.
But it's only a play, right? (No pun intended). Throughout the canon of McNally's established fare, Corpus Christi is his least produced work due to its subject matter. Straddling the line between religion and homosexuality, this play premiered in 1998 at Manhattan Theatre Club and was troubled by threats and protests from the start - so troubled that MTC was ready to pull the play from its season. It took a subscriber strike to rescind that decision, and the play ran to sold-out houses.
But that didn't make this play move in circulation as fast as purists would have liked. The most recent local production to date was at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, but that was in the year following the premiere. There have been few renditions to date.
McNally creates a "what if" theory of a gay Jesus. To craft a character like Joshua, going through the same trials and tribulations like Christ is a sound argument and can make for very powerful debates. McNally wants to prove that Jesus is for everyone, no matter what the sexual preference is.
As ambitious as The Baby Factor is in putting on a large cast production, they fail to organize an ensemble as coherent as the text. What we have is a hodgepodge of talent that makes this rendition so unbalanced, the standouts are few and far between.
Tom Lacey shines as Joshua/Jesus. Lacey has a coyness and innocence at first, but when he becomes the Messiah, Lacey is skillful in making Joshua stressed in his decisions, especially in his powers. As Judas, Anthony Abraira radiates subtle and evil evidence that betrayal is imminent. Nigel Revenge has a good turn as Joshua's mother, Mary, and Dwayne Tuttle handles himself well in a few character roles.
It's been documented that Lacey had some trouble casting roles due to Corpus Christi's text. Usually a film director, Telys Marti filled out the ensemble with other artists who are either barely audible or nearly incoherent. Since the entire cast is on the stage, it is important to be immersed in the action, even when the player has no dialogue.
Irene Saltman's costuming is profoundly simple. Everyone wears white shirts and khaki pants, but the aura speaks for the apparel. Marti's set is also blunt: a sparse black box with a removable cross. Representing guerrilla theatre, Marti's lighting design uses lamp lights that only require the stage manager to click and serve!
Tom Lacey and The Baby Factor must be commended for putting on this risky piece of theatre. While Corpus Christi is potent in its message, it takes a cast with chutzpah to pull it off. Next time, the Factor needs to find a better pool to tip the scales in their favor.
Corpus Christi plays until December 19th at the New Light Gallery, 218 E. Commercial Boulevard, Suite 106 in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. For more information, please call (954) 786-1080 or (561) 541-2197.
THE BABY FACTOR - Corpus Christi
Featuring Tom Lacey, Anthony Abraira, Tobin Strader, and Nigel Revenge
Ensemble: Zach Brown, Dwayne C. Tuttle, Steve Woollett, Jerry Perez,
Set and Lighting Design: Telys Marti
Directed by Telys Marti
-- Kevin Johnson