Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Gay Jesus, a depressed drag queen and purgatory

Ghost Light Projects founder explains common theme among three plays

James Dolby plays Jesus (Joshua) in Ghost Light Projects’ production of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi. Credit: Ghost Light Projects

A gay Jesus, a drag queen’s battle with depression, and an absurdist play set in purgatory are all on tap as Ghost Light Projects brings its theatre season to an ambitious close.

First up is Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi, a revisionist telling of Jesus’s life and passion set in 1950s Texas, in which Jesus and his disciples are gay. Written in 1997 — to widespread condemnation from Catholics and death threats for the playwright — the play remains controversial nearly 20 years later.

“We had a few people contact us after our newsletter went out announcing the show, demanding to be taken off our mailing list,” says Ghost Light founder and artistic producer Randie Parliament. “I’ve never shied from controversy, but the play was not chosen because of it. Like most of McNally’s work it is about love and acceptance.”

Actor James Dolby, who plays the role of Jesus (renamed Joshua in the play by a father who doesn’t want his son to sound Mexican), agrees.

“Audiences who think it is an exploitative piece about Jesus being gay are losing some of the real beauty behind the play,” Dolby says. “It really is about the human capacity to love unconditionally, regardless of any boxes we put around sexuality.”

The second show, originally slated to be part of the company’s season two years ago, has since morphed into a reflection of Parliament’s real-life time as a butler, and his subsequent depression, through the eyes of a drag queen.

“It is much easier to tell the story through the eyes of someone else,” Parliament says of his play The Singing Butler. “I despised my employer at the time, and I wanted to reflect on what that experience did to me, rather than the family that I worked for.”

Still recovering from the emotional scars, Parliament hopes that by telling his story he can finally move on. “It’s an ongoing journey. It will be interesting to see how I feel when it goes up,” he says.

The final show is the absurdist comedy Exit The King by Eugene Ionesco. Translated from the original French, it tells the story of a megalomaniacal ruler whose incompetence has left his country in near ruin.

While the three plays may appear on the surface to be vastly different, for Parliament they all have an overarching theme of persecution and feeling trapped.

“There is a darker side to all three,” he says, “although we are definitely trying to keep them light.”