Corpus Christi at Northwest Actors Studio
Though quite controversial when Terrence McNally wrote it in 1998, Corpus Christi which Gaydar Productions is staging at NW Actors Studio has stirred little to no reaction from the religious right here in Seattle. Perhaps they are all too busy attending Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ to get worked up over McNally's gay take on the life & times of Jesus (Joshua in McNally's version). Though McNally's sincere tale is not the greatest story he has ever told (in a playwriting career that includes such superior efforts as Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class ) it is a valid attempt to show that the ugly face of persecution doesn't change much through the ages.
The play starts with the actors being baptized as their principal characters of Joshua, Judas and the other modern day facsimiles of the biblical apostles, though most of them take on several other characters in due course. McNally's trademark humor is happily in abundance through much of the action as we see Joshua growing up gay in the 50's, in the unfriendly environment of Corpus Christi, Texas, reviled by his macho classmates in high school where he first meets Judas who will become his lover. He leaves Texas to search for a more welcoming environment, and before long has a number of devoted and passionate disciples. Their follows a Sermon on the Mount, and Joshua presides over a gay marriage, but his path towards destruction is preordained. Joshua returns to Corpus Christi, is betrayed by Judas, and ultimately crucified.
McNally's script fares best in the early going, especially in the scenes of Joshua's schooldays encounters with a bullying priest, supportive nuns, wannabe girlfriends, and homophobic jocks. But the more the story parallels the familiar saga of Jesus Christ the less intriguing the play becomes. McNally's dialogue is always diverting, but somehow I expected more originality and well, more passion.
Director Jacob Gent wisely takes a straightforward approach to the script, and there are a few standouts in his solid ensemble cast. Will Halsey gives his Joshua a disarming sweetness, empathy and charisma, and is never coy. Rob MacGregor 's Judas has a wicked bad-boy gleam in his eye as he seduces Joshua, and a genuine sense of sorrow at what his betrayal will cost. Jay Irwin as Thomas, Buddy Mahoney as Bartholomew, and Chris Maltby as Peter land the lion's share of McNally's funniest lines adeptly and without caricature. Keith Gehrig's set and lighting design are simple and effective.
With Corpus Christi Gaydar Productions has wisely chosen a very different sort of gay play to follow-up its success with wildly campy (and fleetingly nude) Party. The Sunday evening performance I attended drew a respectable and supportive audience, which bodes well for this neophyte Fringe theatre company.
Corpus Christi runs through April 25 at Northwest Actors Studio, 1100 East Pike St on Capitol Hill. For reservations call 206.267.2750 or visit Gaydar Productions online at www.GaydarProductions.com