OKCTC produces thoughtful 'Corpus Christi'
“Corpus Christi” is a town in Texas; it is also the Classical Latin phrase for “body of Christ.” In Oklahoma City Theatre Company’s production of Terrence McNally’s play of that name, the life of Jesus is thoughtfully re-imagined in a modern setting among a brotherhood of gay men. This production, directed by OKCTC Artistic Director Rachel Irick, is a delicately and lovingly staged exploration of sacrificial love and the very human relationships that lead to devotion, support, and betrayal.
The play opened with the ensemble cast warning the audience of the controversial nature of the topic, then moved to Dakota Lee Bryant as John acknowledging each actor and, one by one, “baptizing” them into their roles. The stories of the various “apostles” were told as they took up their new names: Erick Rivera as Matthew, Brandon Smith as Simon, Tyler Clark as Peter, Matthew Herdman as Thomas, Matt Cross as Andrew, Tim Daggs as Judas, David Briquet as James the Less, Jace Greenwood as James, Kaleb M. Bruza as Philip, Thor Bautz as Bartholemew, Deron Twohatchet as Thaddeus, and Roy Samra as the reluctant leader Joshua.
There are many clues that this play is an exploration or “thought experiment.” The play conforms to some scriptural traditions and departs from others; for example, John does ask Joshua to baptize him. However, John the baptizer and John the apostle are two separate people in scripture; in McNally’s imagined world, they are one and the same. McNally keeps the circumstance of Roman occupation while setting the story in a very 21st century Texas culture.
In an e-mail to director Irick, playwright McNally commented, “I love being reminded that there are people in the Bible Belt who are not afraid to speak of universal love and human divinity . . . I wrote this play because I believe gay men and women have a place at the table of spirituality . . . I was tired of only writing about us only in terms of our physical sexuality…” In writing “Corpus Christi,” McNally for the most part stays within the more patriarchal interpretations of the traditional stories.
To tell these stories, cast members took on many other roles: Mary the confused and neglectful virgin mother, the voice of God the daddy, Roman officials, fellow students, teachers, for example. There was much humor and some pointed realism embedded the portrayals; the high school prom where bullied Joshua tries to figure out girls was painfully funny, especially for anyone who remembers not being part of the popular crowd.
The cast functions as a very smooth and coordinated ensemble. Some standout moments came from Briquet, the tallest of the cast, whose James the Less was both ironic and moving. Bautz as Bartholemew the attorney provided a lovely study in the tension between commitment to a cause of love and peace and the attractions of corporate success. Bruza’s musical leadership used the voices of the ensemble, combined with Rivera on guitar, in the well-chosen musical underscoring that supported the story.
An almost deceptively simple black-box set needed the light painting that Chris Brooks provided. The costume design, also apparently very simple, was nonetheless extremely careful and effective in placing the characters and the story elements.
“Corpus Christi” runs for two hours without intermission, and it never drags. While this play deals with adult themes, it is not beyond the grasp of youth and teens.
“Corpus Christi” plays through April 4 in the CitySpace theatre on the lower level of the Civic Center Music Hall in Oklahoma City. Tickets can be purchased via the OKCTC website (OKCTC.org) or by calling 405-297-2264. They can also be purchased through myticketoffice.com.