Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“ CORPUS CHRISTI ” – Diversionary Theatre
AIRDATE: MAY 9, 2008
In the Beginning, was the Word. And it was good. Then the Old Testament begat the New Testament. And Andrew Lloyd Webber offered a “Superstar” version. And still it was good. More or less. If you like that sort of thing. And Mrs. McNally begat Terrence, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. And he was good. But he was gay. And he wanted to tell the story his own way. As if Jesus were gay, too. And the world went wild. And darkness was upon the land. Death threats were made against the playwright. Pickets swarmed the theater. But that was ten years ago. And yet… this past week, when the play opened at Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest, the marquee was defaced. And the irony is, most of the protesters, then and presumably now, had never seen the play.
So, what’s all the uproar about? “ Corpus Christi ,” which won three New York theater awards as Best Play of 1998, uniquely dramatizes the story of Jesus, from birth to crucifixion. And though there is harsh language and sexual innuendo, and perhaps it’s not for everyone, the play is extremely respectful. And it conveys an unmistakable message, the same one Jesus expounded: love your neighbor, be accepting of others. Turn the other cheek. And have faith. Would that those who revolted against the production did the same.
There’s something kind of ‘60s about this passion play, which presents a sort of ragtag bunch of actors, talking to the audience as they set up the stage and take on their roles, each symbolically baptized with a new name.
The action begins in the playwright’s hometown of Corpus Christi , Texas . Heavy on the rednecks, who ridicule and deride the gentle Joshua. He knows there’s something more out there for him, and he’s hounded by the sound of hammering, which turns out to be a premonition of the nailing of the cross. Nice touch.
At Pontius Pilate High School , Joshua is an outcast who’s befriended by a seductive bad-boy named Judas. The two become close, emotionally and physically. But Judas is embittered by envy. Then, as in the original story, Joshua disappears for awhile, and when he resurfaces, he’s able to perform miracles. He attracts a devoted following. He re-encounters Judas. And the rest, as they say… is religious iconography.
What’s most enjoyable about this production is its sheer theatricality. It’s fascinating to watch how Los Angeles director Nic Arnzen , a veteran of numerous “ Corpus Christi ’s,” makes it all seem so organic and spontaneous. His talented, pliable cast assumes multiple roles with alacrity and aplomb. At the center, there are two especially robust performances. High schooler Trevor Bowles is numinous as Joshua, and Rich Carillo is both winsome and dangerous as Judas. The production is inventive and engaging. And touching, truly touching at the end.
[” Corpus Christi ” runs through June 1 at Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest]
©2008 PAT LAUNER