Biblical allegories are a staple of pop culture, but the best ones — typically, films like TheGreen Pasturesor Jesus of Montreal — have a good time at it. Fun, however, is the last thing on McNally’s mind. There’s never any doubt, watching Corpus Christi, that Joshua is a clear-eyed visionary and not, possibly, some deluded neurotic whose followers are hallucinating cultists. This is because Corpus Christiis not an attack on faith, but a calculated defense of it, and because McNally is not interested in raising questions, only in answering an oppressive choir of bigots that thunders inside his head.
No one can deny the seriousness of homophobia, but there’s something creepily self-serving about a play that uses the founder of a major religion to sanctify a contemporary issue like gay marriage — not because this is sacrilege, but because it’s just plain silly. By play’s end, Joshua and his followers seem less a cadre of holy seekers and more like the weekend idlers of McNally’s Love! Valour! Compassion!
When Corpus Christi’s world premiere was announced in 1998 by the Manhattan Theater Club, there was a firestorm of criticism and threats against the theater. So much so that MTC briefly canceled the play, until an even louder outcry from offended liberals forced the company to open it as scheduled. When it did, MTC, no doubt, became the first off-Broadway theater to require patrons to pass through a metal detector to see a play.
The tumult over Corpus Christi seems overblown today. Of course, its most fervent critics hadn’t seen or read the play. They were instead reacting to their worst fears — that the play would horridly mock their religion by equating Jesus with sodomy. But, as everyone would discover, Corpus Christi’s real shock value lay in its being a gay play without nudity, as well as a mushy defense of Christianity and the veracity of Scripture. When it comes to attacking the status quo, you won’t find Terrence McNally casting the first stone.
CORPUS CHRISTI | By TERRENCE McNALLY At the LILLIAN THEATER, 1078 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood | Through October 21