Scroll To Top

The Prophecy
According to Terrence 

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.

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.

The show opens with the group milling on stage, hugging each other, and talking as if they're at the start of an AA meeting. They eventually change, onstage, from their street clothes to a uniform of khaki pants and white shirts. And while the this Godspell-like beginning (people putting on a play about Jesus Christ) seems staged and the camaraderie forced, once you realize the troupe has been together for so long, the interaction seems genuine. Everyone ends up playing multiple parts (except James Brandon, who plays Joshua), weaving seamlessly into and out of character with the help of minor costume and lighting changes and fantastic choreography that reconfigures the group from cars on a highway to a field of serpents in the blink of an eye. The stage is bare except for a couple of benches and a few props, and the actors keep the audience engaged with nothing more than their talent.

The performances are remarkable, however. Molly O'Leary, who plays Thomas, really chews the scenery -- there's even a line in the play warning us that she will do just that. She owns all the comedic moments in the play. But the real standout is Brandon as Joshua. His embodies the original message of Jesus with so much charisma that you believe it actually may be possible to love your fellow man no matter what. His torment is palpable, and when he is crucified and the actors (now out of character) take him down, Brandon is a mess. Switching out of his character and back into the real world, he can barely keep it together as the cast members help him into his jeans. This is perhaps the revival's greatest success. How hard it must be to get an audience to become emotionally involved with a story they've seen performed in innumerable ways. But watching this cast go from being as excited as a kid on Christmas about playing these parts to being inconsolable is undeniably moving.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Corey Scholibo