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…)