Corpus Christi (play)

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Corpus Christi is a passion play by Terrence McNally dramatizing the story of Jesus and the Apostles. Written in 1997 and first staged in New York in 1998, it depicts Jesus and the Apostles as gay men living in modern-day Texas. It utilizes modern devices like television with anachronisms like Roman occupation. Judas betrays Jesus because of sexual jealousy. Jesus administers gay marriage between two apostles.


It received critical attention for its exploration of gay themes in Christianity.[1][2][3] It was also condemned by Catholic League, a Roman Catholic watchdog group, for what they viewed as blasphemy, sacrilege,[4][5] and anti-Catholic bigotry.

Playwright Terrence McNally, a gay man, received death threats when it was played in the U.S.[6][7] Its production in New York City was canceled then reinstated,[8] finally opening on 13 October 1998, directed by Joe Mantello. It received its British premiere in 2000, produced by Theatre 28 and directed by Stephen Henry. When it was produced as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Anglican bishop Robert Forsyth considered the play to be offensive and historically incorrect.[6]

The play returned briefly to a small New York theatre in 2008, gaining a sympathetic review by the New York Times, which also published an article linking the uproar in 1998 to the death of gay student Matthew Shepard.[8] In 2009, the play was performed at the Church of the Foothills in California.[9]

In March 2010, a student performance of the play was canceled at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. The university had received many complaints about the play's scheduled performance, but its president, F. Dominic Dottavio, citing freedom of speech, declared that the play would be performed.[10] Dottavio's condemnation of the play in the same letter, though, has been criticized by campus free speech groups as giving encouragement to people trying to shut down the production.[11] After Texas's Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst weighed in saying, "No one should have the right to use government funds or institutions to portray acts that are morally reprehensible to the vast majority of Americans," the performance was cancelled citing safety concerns.[12][13]

The planned staging of the play in Athens, Greece, in October 2012 caught the attention of right-wing extremist organizations including the fascist parliamentary party Golden Dawn. This led to violent protests by party members and clergymen, with journalists and audience members being banned in the theater, and the premiere was cancelled.[14][15]

Documentary film[edit]

A film about the staging of the play and its reception, titled Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption, was released in 2011.[16] It was previewed at the Atlanta Film Festival on May 7, 2011.[17]

For many years, rumors of a film of the play had circulated as an urban legend, calling for e-mail petitions to stop the film.[18][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "'Family' Gathers at the Theater Hall of Fame", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 25, 1996, pp C-1.
  2. ^ Censorship in the Age of Anything Goes; For Artistic Freedom, It's Not the Worst of Times James Sterngold, New York Times, September 20, 1998.
  3. ^ `Jesus is gay' play at Fringe, Charis Owen, The Independent, July 17, 1999.
  4. ^ "Lawmakers Threaten FAU Over Gay Christ Play", Stephen Kiehl, Palm Beach Post, March 30, 2001, pp 1A.
  5. ^ "Theater Club Changes Stance: Play To Go On despite Threats", Peter Applebome, The New York Times, May 30, 1998, pp. 5D.
  6. ^ a b Gay Jesus play blasted by bishop
  7. ^, Row erupts in Australia over 'gay' Jesus play: report
  8. ^ a b Hoyt, Clark (November 9, 2008). "The Perilous Intersection of Art and Religion". New York Times. Retrieved July 1, 2011. 
  9. ^ Play portraying Jesus as gay man set to hit California church stage November 15, 2009.
  10. ^ Letter by F. Dominic Dottavio posted on Tarleton State website
  11. ^
  12. ^ Play’s cancellation ‘right thing to do,’ Dewhurst says Ralph K.M. Haurwitz, Austin American-Statesman, March 27, 2010
  13. ^ The Gay-Jesus Place Reeve Hamilton, The Texas Tribune, March 29, 2010
  14. ^ Rioting outside theater in Iera Odos, NewsIt, 12 October 2012 (Greek)
  15. ^ Greece, in 2012: fascists beating up people while the police look on, The Guardian, 12 October 2012
  16. ^ Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption at the Internet Movie Database
  17. ^ Bagby, Dyana (May 7, 2011). "'Corpus Christi' film about gay Jesus screens today at Atlanta Film Fest". The Georgia Voice. Retrieved July 1, 2011. 
  18. ^ Mikkelson, Barbara & David P. "Gay Jesus Film" at Urban Legends Reference Pages.
  19. ^ "'Corpus Christi' Movie (Gay Jesus)". Retrieved July 1, 2011. 


External links[edit]