Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi has been captivating audiences and drawing detractors ever since its debut, 14 years ago. By resetting the familiar tale of the life of Jesus in the town of his youth, Corpus Christi, Texas, McNally created a work which meditates on the life, love, and passion of Christ, but in a modern and relatable way.
I first met actor James Brandon, who for six years has been playing the character of Jesus (renamed Joshua in the play), when he and Nic Arzen, the play’s director, met with my pastor and I about the possibility of bringing their show to Church of the Foothills, our progressive church in the middle of conservative Orange County, California.
In addition to touring, the play has been the inspiration for a documentary as well, Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption, which is showing at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre on Sunday April 29, with performances of the play itself occurring over that weekend.
James took time to speak with me about his life, love, faith, and his experience of playing a “Gay Jesus.”
Kergan Edwards-Stout: I’ll never forget, walking up to unlock the sanctuary on the day of your first performance at our church, and finding a can on the front steps, labeled “Spray Away the Gay”–which turns out to be remarkably like Glade air freshener. Who knew it was so easy, right?–Or that you’d even want to?!? But you and your entire team deal with things like that all the time.
James Brandon: I just recently found a picture of you holding that can! But, yes, we deal with that all the time. There is no choice except to embrace one’s inner happiness. Some people think, just like that spray, it’s as easy as just saying “I’m not gay anymore” and being gay simply disappears. I always say that it’s as easy as wiping the color of your skin off your face.
Edwards-Stout: We also had a bomb threat. How, as actors, do you calm yourselves and be fully present, with all that tumult? Because the play doesn’t work if you aren’t… (more…)
Actor/playwright Steven Fales first came to my attention with his groundbreaking solo play, Confessions of a Mormon Boy, which was a hit off-Broadway and in cities around the world. The play chronicles Fales’ heartbreaking journey from being a devoted sixth-generation Mormon and father of two, to coming out as gay and being excommunicated from his church. Along the way, he also details his painful divorce, a long-fought battle with drugs and alcohol, a stint in prostitution, to finally coming out the other side as an out and proud gay dad.
Intrigued by his story, I asked him to perform his play at Church of the Foothills, the progressive church I attend in the middle of conservative Orange County, California. Getting to know Steven and his life story, it became clear that no one play could accurately communicate his entire life’s journey, so I wasn’t surprised to learn of his creation of two new solo plays, Missionary Position and Prodigal Dad, which complement his first.
Missionary Position was based on Fales’ journals and follows his Mormon mission to Portugal, while Prodigal Dad explores the link between parent and child, and how tenuous, yet intrinsic, that bond can be. My partner Russ and I had the pleasure of having Fales read us an early draft of Prodigal Dad in our living room, and I can’t wait to see it fully realized on stage.
For the first time ever, Fales will be performing these three plays in repertory at Los Angeles’ Hudson Guild Theatre, in preparation for an off-Broadway run. He graciously took time to share with me more about these plays, his life, and his continuing journey as a gay father.
Kergan Edwards-Stout: When you first wrote Confessions of a Mormon Boy, did you ever envision you’d eventually have a series of plays, all based on your life?
Steven Fales: Heck no! I thought Confessions of a Mormon Boy was going to be it. But then life continued to unfold. And as I got more courageous in telling more and more of my truth, I knew I had to write the others. Although Missionary Position has certainly become a big crowd pleaser, Prodigal Dad is where my heart and soul resides. Bottom-line, I’m a dad. And I was always meant to be a dad. My work honors all prodigal parents who have come home to who they really are.
Edwards-Stout: What led you to write Confessions of Mormon Boy in the first place?
Fales: Well, at the time, I was being excommunicated in a formal church court for the practice of homosexuality. After all of the reparative therapy I had undergone, and all the sacrifice and service to the church and my family, I found it all so fantastical and barbaric. It was clear that someone needed to write this.
Edwards-Stout: That person ended up being you–
Fales: I mean, Mormons excommunicate you with a smile! But I also realized that I was afraid, if I were to suddenly die, my children would not know who their father was. If I didn’t tell my own story, no one else would.
Edwards-Stout: But you have relationships, of varying degree, to very prominent Mormons who are also writers, correct? Your mother-in-law, Carol Lynn Pearson, wrote Good-bye, I Love You, and your ex-wife, Emily Pearson, wrote Dancing with Crazy. Both of them are memoirs about their personal experiences of marrying gay men, their faith, and other themes which connect with yours. Were you concerned about how they would tell your story?
Fales: No matter how great our divas are, they will never be able to tell our own stories with the honesty and passion that we can. I also didn’t want my story white-washed by women who seem to be pro-gay, but are actually pro-gay for pay. They have built an empire on gay Mormon memoir. And neither of them is gay…and barely even Mormon.