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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Theatre review: Corpus Christi benefits from its performances

There is an interesting dichotomy created in Terrance McNally’s Corpus Christi where audiences may be first drawn to the provocative nature of this re-telling of Christ’s life and Passion, but it doesn’t take long to realize that for all the buttons it tries to push, it is surprisingly tame.

While the argument goes that the sometimes polemic portrayal of Christ and his disciples should not be the main focus, it is near impossible to separate McNally’s revisionist take and that of the traditional bible story. While the two ultimately preach the same thing – unconditional love and acceptance – the draw for McNally’s play initially remains in its controversy. But while the idea of a gay Jesus may have been considered offensive to some, and ground-breaking for others, at the time, in 2015 Vancouver it just doesn’t have the same resonance.

What we end up with is a retelling of Christ’s story that at some level attempts to capture the zeitgeist of two decades ago, but because McNally’s play barely reads on the controversy meter today, ultimately boils down to how well the story is presented. Fortunately there is enough to like about this Ghostlight Projects production that goes well beyond its potentially inflammatory surface.

Leading the way is a tremendous performance by Brent Hirose as John the Baptist. Perhaps ironically, there is a radiance that Hirose emits that perfectly captures the nature of his role of Jesus’ baptizer. The opening scene, as he introduces each cast member and “baptizes” them with their central characters, is a joy to watch. It is difficult to keep your eyes off Hirose when he is on stage.

Other stand-outs include Cody Kearsley as the betrayer Judas with a refreshing portrayal free of any real guilt, and James Dolby who does a good job as Joshua/Jesus in balancing McNally’s sometimes incongruent story. The rest of this ensemble is equally up to the show’s challenges as they move between their central characters and other roles necessary to tell the story. There is a genuine sense of comradery between the men that draws you in as much as their open-hearted performances.

Director Greg Bishop keeps things simple with an acting space that resembles a cross taking centre stage, but for all its simplicity there is a wonderful energy that is generated as he moves the cast about the entire space.

While audiences may initially be drawn to controversies in Corpus Christi, it is the performances that you remember.

Corpus Christi by Terrence McNally. Directed by Greg Bishop. A Ghostlight Projects production playing in rep with Exit the King and The Singing Butler at Performance Works (1218 Cartwright St, Granville Island, Vancouver) until April 4. Visit for tickets and information.

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