The play’s the thing

By Wenzel Jones

Originally published on Advocate.com October 08 2001 11:00 PM ET

When Chad Allen
decided to produce the Los Angeles premiere of Terrence
McNally’s contemporary morality play Corpus
Christi
, he wanted a production worthy of the
script he considers a “transcendent piece of
theater.”

Allen’s
production team brought on board Kristin Hanggi and Damon
Intrabartolo—director and composer, respectively, of
last year’s award-winning Los Angeles musical
Bare, which also dealt with matters of sexuality and
religion. The addition of music, Allen felt, was vital to
the piece. “It’s a way to tell parts of the
story that don’t otherwise get told,” he
says. McNally approved the addition, although he was
originally reluctant to do so.

The result is a
dynamic production that uses the familiar arc of
Jesus’s life to tell the tale of Joshua
(Nicholas Downs), who grows up gay in Corpus
Christi
, Tex. Joshua seeks truth in a world where little
is evident—and is eventually destroyed for
speaking it. “Expert timing and nuanced
performances mine the full measure of pathos and unexpected
comedy,” judged Los Angeles Times critic Philip
Brandes.

While the message
of love and personal divinity is not unlike the one
that has kept Godspell afloat all these years,
it’s the element of queer sexuality that has
brought out the demonstrators everywhere Corpus
Christi
has been produced, beginning with its New York
debut in the fall of 1998. In Los Angeles, reports associate
producer and publicist Patty Onagan, the band of about
40 protesters on opening night, August 17, was
peaceful and respectful. But the production had to hire
security personnel to work nightly after a subsequent
performance at which a ticketholder began to berate
the cast during the show. (The play runs Thursdays
through Sundays until October 21 at the Lillian Theater.)

For his part,
Allen—who plans to step into the lead role in late
September—is certain those protesting would cease
doing so if they would just read or see Corpus
Christi
, which he thinks they would find, as he
did, to be “deeply, deeply Christian.”