Ignition Theatre wraps up on controversial note with Corpus Christi

Ignition Theatre has opted to serve up a controversial production about a Christ figure set in 1950s/60s Texas for the troupe’s final theatrical offering.

Corpus Christi, written by Terrence McNally, runs June 7-9, 14-16 at City Centre Stage. Curtain is 7:30 p.m.

McNally’s Christ figure is a character named Joshua, a man born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas in the early 1950s. Different from the other boys because he is homosexual, Joshua grows up in isolation and torment. He flees Corpus Christi in search of a more accepting environment, gathering a group of ‘disciples’ by his message of love and tolerance. Returning to Corpus Christi, he is betrayed by his lover, Judas, and crucified in front of the jeering throngs who hated him as a boy, and still do. His plea, that we look upon all souls as equal in the sight of God, falls unattended.

“I never really consider controversy as a pro or con when selecting a play,” explains Matt Grue, artistic director. “Certainly I am aware of the controversy that swirls around this production, but to me this is a compelling script, something that challenges perception, something entertaining, something that will resonate with audiences and something that wouldn’t ever be seen in Red Deer if not for Ignition Theatre.”

Grue said the opportunity to tackle material by one of this generation’s most influential playwrights also made it a compelling choice.

“We encourage audiences to not be afraid of the play simply because it explores homosexual themes in a religious context, but rather trust that after seven seasons, Ignition Theatre has proven itself and is dedicated to producing theatre with integrity. We sincerely believe in not only the play itself, but in its relevance to the ongoing civil rights movement that is more a part of today’s political and social landscape than ever before.”

Grue said he believes the biggest misconception about the play is that people assume McNally is attempting to rewrite history. “We are not suggesting Jesus was gay. We are using the story of Jesus as a framework to tell a ‘what if’ story. We are not set in biblical times, but in 1950s and 1960s Texas/New York. The story is familiar, it is an updated, sometimes exaggerated re-telling of the New Testament story. Some people believe it should be off limits and that we should not be able to reinterpret or use the story in any way other than in a literal or traditional sense. I am not one of those people,” he said.

“Our play, as I personally believe, is reminding us that at its foundation, the message of Jesus was/is about love, tolerance and compassion,” he added. “Theatre is an opportunity to challenge perceptions. I cannot control those who have already labeled this play as offensive having neither read nor seen the production. I think they are misguided and are doing themselves and those they speak with about the play a great disservice by dismissing it as offensive or blasphemous.

“It would be an easier pill to swallow if they saw the play and still felt that way, though I think they would be hard-pressed. At least then we could have an intelligent conversation/debate about the merits of the production and its message.”

The production also marks the end of Ignition Theatre after seven seasons. “It was pretty emotionally overwhelming to suddenly realize what our impact was on this community. Truthfully, we always wonder if our work has any lasting impact. We’ve learned that it has more lasting impact then we could have ever expected. It’s satisfying and something that has made it substantially harder to walk away.”

Meanwhile, directing Corpus Christie has certainly been a learning experience as well a creatively challenging but exciting project for Grue.

“What I have learned is this – or what I believe is this – Jesus was a man who had doubts, fears, questions, appetites just like the rest of us. I feel as though he may have been uncomfortable being recongnized as a divinity but assumed that responsibility. I believe that what he wanted to instill in us was a message of love, he wanted to teach us how to be tolerant and compassionate. He wanted us to know that despite our shortcomings, or poor choices, there is always an opportunity for redemption. There is always somewhere to turn for help.

“Our cast has been willing to explore, has been willing to challenge themselves, have been willing to challenge me. We are navigating this play together, learning things about ourselves, about our beliefs that maybe we had never considered.”

Tickets are $25 for adults and $22 for students and seniors and are available at Ticket Central (4922 49th St.) They can also be purchased by phone at 403-347-0800 or online at www.ticketcentraloutlet.ca.

The play carries a discretionary warning for coarse language and mature themes.