Terrence McNally’s 1998 play, Corpus Christi, begins with the line, “We are going to tell you an old and familiar story.” This is somewhat true: the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been told for millennia. But in Christi, Jesus is named Joshua. And he lives in 1950s Texas. And he’s gay.
The controversial play debuted amid a furor of death threats and bomb scares at The Manhattan Theatre Club in a production directed by Joe Mantello (recently nominated for a Tony for The Normal Heart). The actual merits of the production were often viewed as secondary to the zeitgeist-y story surrounding the show, especially because the gay community was reeling from the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard.
In 2006, a small company in Los Angeles called 108 Productions mounted a revival of Christi at a church in the San Fernando Valley. The production went across California, to the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and eventually back off-Broadway, in a sold-out 2008 run that earned positive reviews in the New York Times.
Now comes the next chapter in the Corpus Christi saga: On August 6th, the long-rumored documentary, Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption debuts at L.A’s Metropolitan Community Church, along with a live production of the show. The film tells the story of the play and follows McNally and the cast of the revival as they take Christi on the road, encountering both opposition and support.
See it if you can: In these times, the convergence of religion, sexuality and theater is woefully unexplored.