The real test here won't be whether gay audiences agree (of course they will), or whether traditional Christians have a change of heart (of course they won't), but whether straight and non-Christian people are affected.
In fact, there's an interesting case study going on at the moment with two cast members: Sean Cox (Judas) and Matt Tully (Bartholomew), both of whom classify themselves as straight and non-Christian.
"I don't consider myself a Christian, but through this play, my understanding of the teachings of Christ have grown," Cox said. "This is the story of Jesus, which in turn is the story of all of us. I believe it transcends 'straight' and 'gay.' I think you could easily substitute 'black' or 'Mexican' or 'poor' for 'gay' in this show, and the message would be the same. And I think the message of the play is that Jesus belongs to all people because he was all people."
Tully, meanwhile, looks forward to being persecuted and reviled.
"I've never really had an understanding of the gay lifestyle before," he said. "The gay people I've been around have been closeted or not really out in the open. So this whole process has opened my eyes and been an interesting journey. I don't know what it's like to be persecuted for anything. I'm a white heterosexual male, so for me, it's going to be really interesting if I walk up to the theater and protesters start calling me a cocksucking faggot. I'll know what it's like to be hated for something."
Understanding. Tolerance. Compassion. The words are used so often and so easily but so rarely put into practice. And that's the irony at the center of any debate about Corpus Christi: whether you agree with its politics, its message or its images, it's hard to argue that this play is an earnest, if sorely flawed, effort to bring people together. But as has happened for nearly 2,000 years—through crusades, inquisitions, witch burnings and gay-bashings—the Christian message seems once again to keep people apart rather than bring them together.
But one can still hope that a play can bridge—however briefly—that huge gap between word and deed. If a production of this play can do that on the smallest of scales, all the controversy and all the outrage—and maybe even the inferior quality of the work itself—will have been worth it.
Corpus Christi by the Rude Guerrilla Theater Co. at the Empire Theatre, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688. Opens Fri. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. (open discussion follows Sun. performances only). Through Dec. 19. $10-$12.