Corpus Christi brings gay marriage to the church

Heads Up Productions, a new Akron theater company, is bringing Corpus Christi to First Grace United Church of Christ.

Benjamin Rexroad, artistic director of Heads Up Productions, has been at The University of Akron for six years now. He began his first semester studying Humanities, but switched to a Theater degree. He will be graduating in May.

Heads Up Productions, a new Akron theater company, is bringing Corpus Christi to First Grace United Church of Christ.

Benjamin Rexroad, artistic director of Heads Up Productions, has been at The University of Akron for six years now. He began his first semester studying Humanities, but switched to a Theater degree. He will be graduating in May.

Rexroad was one of the members to create Heads Up Productions and realize its inception in December 2009.

That year, I was working at a theater in the area in the summer, said Rexroad. I decided that I absolutely hated what they were doing. I really admire their shows and the people who work on them, but in terms of what kind of shows they were producing, I wasn’t a fan because they did the big musicals and that’s not who I am.

I quit and started managing a band. During the course of the summer, I realized that I wasn’t a band manager. So TJ [Jozsa] and I started talking, and we both had a background in theater. We were like, ‘Hey, let’s start a theater company.’

The Arts Director at First Grace United Church of Christ asked Heads Up Production if they wanted to produce Corpus Christi.

This church is very open, and they do a lot of stuff for the gay community. They were looking for something to do for the Easter weekend, said Rexroad.

The show, written by Terrence McNally, is a passion play set in 1970’s Texas. Corpus Christi is the name of a town in Texas. The story draws on that of Jesus and the Apostles, but in this version, the main characters are gay men dealing with modern-day prejudices and the conflicts between homosexuality and the church.

I think it [Corpus Christi] means body of Christ […] in Latin, said Rexroad. Corpus Christi is about this guy named Joshua, who finds out he has a calling and goes out and preaches the good word about living a good life, what God means, and what true love is. There are some very heavy gay scenes involved in the show. Joshua, the Jesus-like figure, performs a gay marriage. He also shares a small relationship with Judas. It’s a romantic entanglement, but not exactly.

Heads Up Productions has received plenty of hate mail for their production of Corpus Christi.

It feels really good. It sucks that there are people out there who feel that way. I am honestly very sad for these people who have sent [hate] mail, who are filled with this much hate. It’s so ridiculous to me, to feel this passionate to hate something. No one has bothered to sign their name…they miss the whole big picture of what this show is, said Rexroad.

I’m trying to respect where the people are coming from and not be mad at them because everyone is entitled to their own opinion, said Margaret Lute, who plays John the Baptist, Joshua’s cousin in the play. It’s just been your wrong and I’m going to pray for you, basically.

I have gotten looks from friends of the family when trying to explain about the play because I was raised Christian and they would be like, ‘Jesus is homosexual in the play?’

As an actor, I have developed a pretty thick skin, said Tyler Hodges, graduate student at The University of Akron. I have performed in a number of controversial shows, so Corpus Christi is not uncharted territory for me. I do not consider the criticism we have received to be detrimental to this production. With this show we are sparking a conversation with the community. We are getting people to think and to speak out. That’s why we are doing this piece. Sure, there are those who vehemently oppose our work, but at least they are responding to us with passion and not apathy. At least they are talking to us and engaging us.

It’s hard to take people seriously who just quote the Bible at me as a means to being ‘right,’ especially taken out-of-context, said Amy Spencer, cast member.  I have to agree with what one cast member said: people can use the Bible however they want to support whatever kind of message they think is right. People have used Bible verses to justify genocide, slavery and other examples of treating other types of human beings as less than.

Some of the actors were able to describe what their characters wanted in the play.

I play Matthew, the lawyer, said Hodges. Matthew wants to maintain his materialistic lifestyle. He’s rich. He’s well known. He has a great job, a great house and a great car. He always gets the girls. When he meets Joshua, he is conflicted. He wants to follow Joshua, but is reluctant to give up his earthly possessions. He wants to find truth and honesty, but has been conditioned to crave money and success.

His wants change throughout the play, said Spencer of his character. He does state quite plainly that he wants to love someone, wants someone to love him, wants to be happy and wants his life to matter. As time passes, he wants everyone to love God and love each other as they would love themselves. And though he wants to live, he gives up his life because he would rather see God’s plan and his life’s purpose through to the end.

There’s a part in the play where Erika and I are playing characters that are in high school. It’s after the dance and we are in the bathroom. We have to pretend to be guys peeing and we are facing the audience. That’s like, ‘Okay this is awkward,’ said Lute.

For me, there are no awkward moments in the play, said Hodges. I’m sure there will be several awkward moments for the audience. Prior to beginning the rehearsal process in earnest, we spent two weeks team-building and talking and learning about each other. So, the cast is very comfortable with each other physically and psychologically. There are many moments where straight men have to kiss each other and show affection. But we have a high level of trust and we know why we are doing what we are doing, so it’s not awkward at all for me.

There are sometimes where I haven’t discovered why my character does what he does, and I feel awkward saying or doing something I don’t understand yet, said Spencer. But awkwardness sometimes comes with the rehearsal process, and it is my job as an actor to eventually know why I say and do everything I do.

We were doing the crucifix scene. I’m playing the cousin. It brought up emotions that weren’t expected, because my cousin passed away last August. It was very triggering. I was crying throughout the entire time. I just kept seeing the funeral, said Lute.

I get emotional when Joshua kisses Matthew’s feet. Matthew refuses to kiss Joshua’s feet because he thinks it is degrading. Joshua shows love to Matthew and kisses his – my – feet. That is where a lot of things come to a head for Matthew and myself. It’s definitely a watershed moment. I have a pretty thick skin, and it’s a really disarming and vulnerable moment, said Hodges.

There are countless parts of the play that make me emotional, said Spencer. Every time I have a personal moment with another actor on stage, there is emotion. The last 15 to 20 minutes of the play feels like a nonstop rolling of one extreme emotion to the next, but that’s because the stakes are so high, and it’s the climax of the story.

For me, it wa
s like having the weight of the world on my shoulders and being forced to watch somebody I love go through the worst possible thing, said Woodworth.

Corpus Christi opens Thursday and will run through Saturday. Tickets will be sold for five dollars at the door or reservations can be made by calling 330-990-5138.