Theatrical Tendencies stages Terrence McNally’s take on Jesus

By - Mar 12th, 2011 02:18 pm
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Kiss of betrayal: Devitt, Skiba in Theatrical Tendencies’ “Corpus Christi.” Theatrical Tendencies photo.

What would Joshua do?

Christians would ask themselves that question, had Christianity unfolded as proposed by playwright Terrence McNally in Corpus Christi. Joshua is McNally’s stand-in for Jesus, a Messiah born in the 1950s and martyred for an act of love. He works miracles and shows compassion. He comes from humble beginnings. He’s from Corpus Christi, Texas. Oh, and there’s one more thing: He’s gay.

Theatrical Tendencies opened McNally’s play Friday at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, to a sold-out house.

Corpus Christi begins much as any passion play. Thirteen men gather to prepare for the baptism of the son of God. But these men dress in crisp white button-downs and freshly creased khakis. They are barefoot, smiling, enjoying one another’s company, ready to receive new names and new lives.

The actors slipped into the roles of the 12 disciples like children eager to play dress up. In the introduction, they remind us that this story has indeed been told many times before, and that each re-telling has its unique feel and flavor. I held that thought throughout the performance, as the men gave Terrence McNally’s vision a voice.

The production involves simple costumes and a few props stashed in boxes behind the curtains. This show is all about the actors, and it worked. We could hardly tear our eyes away from them for even a moment.

McNally’s reinterpretation of the story of Jesus is passionate, as is this staging. Each of the disciples displayed personality, character and enthusiasm, even as they shed their main roles to play such peripherals as Lazarus, Pharisees, schoolgirls, thugs and priests.

James Skiba played Joshua like the love child of William Shatner and Jim Carey, accentuating every syllable as if it would be his last. Joshua Devitt’s Judas was fast and dangerous and sexy, a man born to make bad decisions. The emotion between the two might be the most convincing on-stage display of affection I’ve ever seen. I felt a tinge of guilt when Judas betrayed Joshua with that infamous kiss and secretly cursed all the beautiful dangerous men waiting in the night.

The character of Philip also stayed with me. Brian Firkus was fluid, dramatic, and always just out of reach. Amid the certainty of the other disciples, he doubts — and reminds us of freedom and the ability to adapt and change.

Corpus Christi is frightening and fun, earnest and emotional. Corpus Christi is more than a gay passion play. It mixes the age-old story with the reality members of the LGBT community face even today. It sends an urgent message.

Theatrical Tendencies will perform Corpus Christi at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center on March 12, 13, 18, 19, 25 and 26. For tickets or more information, visit the Theatrical Tendencies website.

Categories: Theater, Uncategorized

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