The Prophecy According to Terrence 

As Terrence McNally’s 1998 play Corpus Christi begins a two-week run in New York, we’re reminded exactly how far we’ve come. 

BY Corey Scholibo

October 14 2008 12:00 AM ET

Opening night of
Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi at the
Rattlestick Theater in New York was a benefit for the
Matthew Shepard Foundation and a perfect reflection of how
prophetic the 1998 play really was. The show portrays
Jesus (or, as he is sometimes called, Joshua) as a
young persecuted gay man who’s eventually executed
-- strung up -- much as Shepard was 10 years ago in Wyoming
(he died the day before the play's world premiere).
But before that climactic scene, Jesus presides over a
gay marriage of two of his disciples. And when asked
about Leviticus’s oft-quoted statement that two men
lying together is an abomination, he simply asks,
“Why would you choose to memorize such a nasty
passage?” While gay marriage and reclamation of
religion were the stuff of fantasy back then --
Corpus Christi is all the more poignant
today because we’ve seen so much of it come to
pass.

The play
dramatizes classic biblical stories, but McNally
incorporates fresh twists to them with references to
television, the paparazzi, and football. The main
character, Joshua, is a sexually confused young man
from Corpus Christi, Texas, who gets picked on a lot and
molested by priests. He tries to date girls until he
meets Judas, who helps him defeat the bullies and
becomes his high school love. Years later, the two
meet again as Joshua is accumulating his disciples, all gay
men. Their love story threads the play together and
makes the inevitable ending all the more difficult.
(Mary Magdalene is not in this production, but there
is still a prostitute character.) McNally turned one of the
oldest stories ever told into a tale of tragic
romance.

Corpus Christi first premiered amid a great
deal of controversy. The religious right was in an uproar. A
fatwa was declared on the play. The show seems tame by
today’s standards -- there is, however, a scene
in which Judas and Joshua make love (fully clothed)
and others in which a male prostitute bares his penis
(obscured) and moons the audience. But the idea that
Jesus could be a gay man and that being gay enabled
his understanding of tolerance and love blew more than
a few minds in its time.

The theater
troupe 108 Productions has been performing Corpus
Christi
, directed by Nic Arnzen, around the world
for more than two years. But the group arrived in New York
for the first time Sunday, the night before the show
opened at Rattlestick. With no patron and no stage,
the troupe meets sporadically in Los Angeles
“at whomever is willing to have the group over to
their house,” says Steve Callahan, who plays
Judas. The troupe includes women, so many of the
characters didn’t register as gay men as they did in
McNally’s original version. But the performance
was full of life, helped in no small part by the
audience, which included McNally, Edward Albee, and
Larry Kramer among others. 

Tags: Theater

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