Texas Nativity

Time's significant because the most riveting scene in McNally's play shows Joshua confronting the age of AIDS. Philip, the Greek apostle, is represented as an HIV-positive hustler, whom Joshua heals with an embrace. This sexually charged moment—undoubtedly the one likely to cause dogmatic Christians the deepest disquiet—takes its power from its immediate relevance. What human being wouldn't wish for the arrival of a man who could cure epidemics with a hug and a command to believe? Yet AIDS isn't over, and the drug mixtures that have lowered its fatality rate aren't the product of a visiting faith healer, but of immense and costly scientific effort, not to mention a vast amount of political protest. The answers Jesus had for a desert society based on agriculture aren't so easily transferred to a postindustrial urban world, a problem McNally fields with flip jokes (Matthew, an ex-lawyer, moans about giving up his corner office) or vague hints (Bartholomew, a doctor, talks about following up Joshua's miracles with medications). The economic challenge Jesus raised—if we took his teachings literally, we'd all be socialists on communes—flickers through the text, an unanswered question.

So, finally, does the queerness for which Joshua is presumably crucified, an operation McNally follows with the detailed devotion of a true believer in what Bernard Shaw bitterly called "Crosstianity." Joshua isn't an activist of any kind; all we see him do is preach love and work miracles. By switching back into biblical times, McNally dodges any question of what his hero might have been tried and crucified for today. Expecting civil war in Judaea daily, the Romans had ample reason to crush any grassroots movement; crucifixion was a standard punishment, which Jesus shared with the rebel slave Spartacus and countless other victims of empire. Ultimately, McNally has no more to say about all this than, "Look what they did to him"—a line repeated three times by one of the disciples in the play's oddly perfunctory closing moments.

Anson Mount as Joshua in Corpus Christi: savioring the moment
Joan Marcus
Anson Mount as Joshua in Corpus Christi: savioring the moment


Corpus Christi
By Terrence McNally
Manhattan Theater Club
131 West 55th Street

Still, the man who said the only commandment was "Love one another" would have understood. However unsatisfactory as a work of art or an interpretation of Jesus, Corpus Christi is a brave act. McNally's willingness to expose himself and his artistic home to danger, for the right to declare that no such danger should exist, does him honor. That he has evoked hysteria instead of serious discussion from his opponents is the proof that he was right. And a grimmer proof is being mourned this week in Wyoming: Matthew Shepard. Look what they did to him, and see McNally's meaning, which has a truth far greater than his play.

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