Corpus Christi – A New Telling

Normally when the theatre doors open you see a curtain or a darkened stage. When Diversionary Theatre doors open the 13-member cast are busy setting the stage. Rachael VanWormer is behind a broom. The others, when not gossiping, are moving the risers (two 2 X 8 footers and two 4 X 8 footers), which are used to create various scenes in Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi.

The premiere production took place about ten years ago in Manhattan. Corpus Christi, literally the body of Christ, has been picketed, threatened with damage to theatres, and even to the actors. It follows similar reactions to other high profile productions such as Jesus Christ Super Star and The Passion of the Christ. The reviews have varied from outright pans to accolades.

As the lights come up VanWormer, as John the Baptist, anoints the actors . . . giving them the names of the other eleven Apostles as well as Joshua (Trevor Bowles), aka Jesus. While the original New York cast was all white males, this cast is a mix of both gender and ethnicity. Director Nic Arnzen discussed his casting decision with the playwright, who thought it was an excellent idea.

The costumes, neutral slacks and tops, are not gender-specific. The cast plays many roles beside the apostles, including playing the opposite genders. Corpus Christi mixes periods in the telling of the story of Jesus Christ from Bethlehem, replete with Christmas Carols, to the Cross. In one moment there are Roman guards, then Jimmy Dean in his Porsche. The feeding of the multitudes with never-ending bread and wine uses Wonder bread and a Big Gulp.

Kate Hewitt plays Matthew, with Jessica Parsell as doubting Thomas, and Anna Rebek as Simon, the denier. Rich Carrillo is the villainous Judas. This is truly an ensemble cast. Peter and James are played by John Whitley and Jesse Allen Moore. Brian Mackey, Zachary Bryant, Scott Andrew Amiotte, Keifla, and Tom Doyle complete the twelve apostles as well as their other roles.

Corpus Christi is a complex telling of the story of Jesus within the context of relatively modern events and the alternative lifestyle communities. One does have to be extremely attentive to follow the mix of the traditional story and the many references to events of the day. This is probably McNally’s most controversial play. Neither is it as focused as most of his other works.

Director Arnzen and his excellent cast give us a fine production as they guide us along the classic tale, often in a car rather than a donkey while listening to contemporary sounds and Christmas carols. Corpus Christi, even with some confusion, is a very interesting interpretation. The depiction of the Last Supper is a startling moment. What it is not is blasphemous. It is simply another take.


Rachael VanWormer, Brian Mackey, Jesse Allen Moore, Zachary Bryant, Anna Rebek, Kate Hewitt, Jessica Parsell, Scott Andrew Amiotte, Keifla, Tom Doyle, John Whitley, Trevor Bowles, Rich Carrillo

Technical Staff

AD Jerusha Matsen Neal, Scenic & Sound Design Nic Arnzen, Lighting Design Stephen Siercks, Asst Lighting Design Sarah Kranz, Operator Rob Norton

Genre: Drama

Author: Terrence McNally

Director: Nic Arnzen

Date Reviewed: May 4, 2008

Dates: Thur to Sun, thru June 1, 2008

Running Time: 115 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

Caution Guidance: Adult language

Diversionary Theatre

4545 Park Blvd

San Diego, CA

Box Office Phone: 619 220-0097

Robert Hitchcox is a playwright, critic and fiction author, who reviews live theatre.