I suppose any play that envisions Judas coming on to Jesus in the rest room of the senior prom at Pontius Pilate High is going to upset somebody. A nervous Manhattan Theatre Club installed metal detectors during the initial 1998 run of Terence McNally's Corpus Christi, and rumor has it that this local staging (at the Northwest Actors Studio through Sunday, April 25) received a bomb threat opening weekend. Surely God has taste enough, though, to know he could do a lot worse. Unfortunately, he could do a lot better, too.
You have to admire the imaginative cheek it took for McNally to picture an uncoordinated Christ suffering the indignities of high-school P.E. But I suspect it's not McNally's irreverence that pisses off the devout so much as his insistence on according homosexuals as much respect as the son of God; his suggestion that "all men are divine" tenderly equates Christ's travails with the burden of any young gay man struggling to accept his own uniqueness.
The play is the Bible done up as a queerified Our Town: Here, the company wanders casually onto a bare-bones stage and, using minimal props, enacts "an old familiar story . . . no tricks up our sleeves." Well, a few tricks, maybe. The all-male cast first strips down to undies so John the Baptist (Timothy Kelly) can anoint them as McNally's revised apostles: "I baptize you and recognize your divinity as a human being," John tells each of them. "I adore you." The procession is kind of touching, and you immediately see where McNally is headed, as, one by one, the actors are transformed into an array of the playwright's standard yuppified gay characters—artists, lawyers, masseurs, et al. ("Thaddeus was a hairdresser—does anyone have a problem with that?")
From there, though, McNally gets awfully tacky awfully fast. Couldn't he trust a gay audience to make it through a 90-minute performance without goosey dirty jokes and references to Broadway musicals? Does Peter really have to launch into "I Got Rhythm"? Joshua (Will Halsey), our Savior, is an immaculate birth at a sleazy motel in Texas—the company emulates a chorus of wife beaters and fornicators in the neighboring rooms—and when onlookers question mother Mary's testiness, she snaps, "You have some kid chewin' on your tits and see how you like it." He soon grows into a holy man attracted to other men, but after the supple high-school heartaches, McNally's play grows thin. A jealous Judas (Rob MacGregor) can't understand why his beloved won't just love him and give up the mission to unite mankind, yet aside from novel ideas about Joshua's temptations—a James Dean–ed devil asking him to go Hollywood—it's clear the playwright doesn't have the depth to handle the duties of articulating the sacrifice.
Neither does director Jacob Gent's ineffectual staging, which has its heart in the right place but mislaid its dramatics somewhere. Everyone in the cast is dressed in white button-downs and khakis, and the evening is equally colorless. The show's emotional peaks are so low it's hard to believe anyone on stage knows they are peaks; Peter (Chris Maltby) overcomes his doubts and puts his faith in Joshua, and the decision is so lacking in eventfulness you'd swear they've both simply agreed to shop at the Gap. Ensemble player Buddy Mahoney has some appealing moments as various characters, though a hardworking MacGregor is given nothing to do but scowl, and Halsey is miscast—he's just not up to the job of inspiring a large group of people. Whenever Joshua treats us to bits of familiar biblical passages, it sounds like Linus' slurpy recitation at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas, only slightly less compelling.
This isn't an awful production, by any means—and it's a step in the right direction for Gaydar Productions, which debuted with the woeful Party—but it only makes you long for something better. Somewhere in the wan delivery and campy tomfoolery is the moving tale of a young man struggling to grow into a person of culture and compassion. It's too bad that, forgive the expression, no one was able to keep a convincing straight face.