DVD Review - Corpus Christi: Playing With Redemption

Jesus Christ performs a gay wedding in a
scene from "Corpus Christ: Playing With Redemption"
Famed playwright Terrence McNally is celebrated on one hand and controversial on the other. In 1998, an Off-Broadway theater in Manhattan decided to produce McNally's Corpus Christi, a retelling of the Passion of Jesus Christ but set in 1950's Texas and with the twist that Jesus Christ is a gay man.

Obviously, this sparked a lot of protests, specifically from the Catholic community. Protesters picketed, spoke out and even threatened the production and its people. This documentary captures that, and, at the same time, follows the revival of McNally's play in 2006, which went on for about five years, even touring overseas. The movie is a series of interviews of McNally as well as the director of the play and its actors.

A lot of the company is from the LGBT community, so a lot of their comments about the issue of homosexuality and religion are typical comments we've heard before. When talking about related issues like HIV and Prop 8 in California, it's all typical of talking heads from documentaries on these subjects. One example is For the Bible Tells Me So (2007).

When it comes to discussing McNally's actual play or the experience, the actors are all just way too lovey dovey. There are a few funny stories of the actors being hesitant to do it or being somewhat ignorant of what it is, but it all becomes a quasi-hippie, love fest that is just full on. As such, it was boring.

Plus, like with some documentaries, a fatal flaw is doing a round robin of every single person involved of which there are dozens. It's nice to hear from everyone, but as such we never spend enough qualitative time with any one single person, so we never really get to know any of them. Then, all of a sudden, at the end, we hear from a guy who says he suffered from substance abuse and he has a breakdown, but it felt so hollow because it comes out of nowhere. There's no build-up of it or deconstruction of it. It just comes and goes.

While watching the interviews, the movie also splices in scenes from the stage production being performed live. In those moments, you briefly feel how good the actors are like James Brandon who plays Jesus, Steve Callahan who plays Judas and particularly David Pevsner who plays Philip, and how good McNally's writing is. Yet, as we see the spliced-in clips, it becomes increasingly obvious that instead of seeing the actors in the revival blather out of character, we'd rather see the actors acting in character performing the entire play.

No question, McNally is a fantastic and gifted writer, which is why he has a handful of Tony Awards, an Emmy Award and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Brandon, Callahan and Pevsner are all sexy, smart and strong actors, which is why I would have rather seen them doing their work and not simply talking about it.

This movie should have been just the filmed version of the stage play. Spike Lee did this to great effect for Passing Strange. In fact, a lot of theater has been filmed to great effect. Not all are released for general consumption, but one that recently did get released was Del Shores' Southern Baptist Sissies, which also tackles the issue of homosexuality and religion.

The actors and others involved with Corpus Christi speak about how important it is for protesters to see the play before judging it. I would say that that should have been what this documentary did. Don't just tell us about the play. Let us see it!

Toward the end, the revival comes to Dallas, Texas. There's a lot of fear that builds up how scared the actors are or how dangerous it could be. I don't discount their feelings or concerns, but there's a way the movie goes about fear-mongering that disregards some context. Yes, there were threats in 1998, but the show went on. Here, the hysteria reaches a height that would make you think the revival members were the Freedom Riders on Mother's Day 1961 going to Alabama.

One Star out of Five.
Not Rated but contains some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 18 mins.


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