“Corpus Christi” – Resurrection of a Gay Theatre Hit

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“Corpus Christi,” penned by Terrence McNally and presented by MCCV (that’s the Metropolitan Community CHURCH of the Valley) is a resurrection of the original 1998 production that opened to bombs threats and protests. (The only person waving a sign in front of this 2006 production, however, was the man for Valet Parking!)

“Corpus Christi” presents the Jesus tale in a way that is palatable to gay men, which means plenty of shirtless muscle hunks in scarves, shawls and drawls. This production uses a simple set comprised of a cross and two benches. The cast, a sizable 13 members, and represented by both men and women as the 12 disciples and “Joshua” (the modern-day Christ played by James Brando), performed with emotion and grace in a play that some white-wing conservative Texan politicians would call “blasphemous.”

At opening time, the cast members milled about the stage folding white t-shirts like they were store representatives at the local GAP! I almost expected them to turn towards the audience in song and dance, but was relieved when they set the clothes aside and began the show. They proceeded into a 15 minute introduction of characters, a baptism of the real actors into the characters they would portray on-stage. The characters then proceeded to act in many various roles ranging from high school starlets to gender-bender truck drivers, thereby utterly confusing their original introductions as disciples. Quite a rocky start, although the shirtless baptisms did garner a bit of attention!

From there, it got much better!

The 2nd Act redeemed the play. Jesus, renamed as “Joshua” so as not to offend “good” Christians, was portrayed as a gay man in the 1950’s, with Judas as his James Dean-esque lover, played by Austen Rey. The two lovers had chemistry on stage and their gay indiscretions were believable and titillating.

As we followed the path of Joshua’s end days, I was a bit disappointed with Judas’ betrayal. The play only alluded to Judas’ jealousy, but never formed an impetus as to why he turned on Joshua.

Aside from minor sexual overtures from the 12 disciples, the play remained fairly true to the biblical teachings of Jesus Christ (not that I am any nun or Sunday school teacher by-the-way, although I have been drawn to habits!) It also drew a juxtaposition between Jesus’ status as an outcast and the general public’s non-acceptance of the gay community, and furthered this idea by crucifying Joshua for being a “queer.”

Cast notables include Sheilagh Brooks, who brought the house down with her powerful portrayal of James “The Less” and Todd Heughens with his excellent range of character portrayals, including Mary, Mother/Molester of God. Overall, the cast performed with tremendous emotion, crying tears of joy as well as agony, and projecting compassion to the audience. In all the various reproductions of the Passion of Christ I have seen, I think this may have been the most emotional. I did cry one tear. It was very uplifting.

“Corpus Christi,” directed by Nic Arnzen, plays at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave, every Friday and Saturday beginning August 25th. Shows begin at 8pm and tickets are $20 general admission and $15 students and seniors. Reservations can be made at 323-852-9111 or at GO West Hollywood GO WEHO LGBT Entertainment News and Industry

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