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Theatre in Review: Locusts Have No King (INTAR)

Dan Domingues, John J. Concado. Photo: Carol Rosegg

Locusts Have No King begins with Marcus quoting a passage from the Book of Mark, the one about how it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. There is a blackout, and the lights come up on Marcus performing fellatio on Jonathan. There's a reason for this juxtaposition: In addition to being lovers, Marcus and Jonathan are priests, assigned to the same Long Island parish. They share the rectory with another couple, Matthew and Lucus, who are coming to dinner. Fasten your seat belts: It's going to be a bumpy night.

Indeed, dinner promises to be tense: Jonathan and Lucus were previously an item, and continued having sex with each other long after they broke up. (They are currently abstaining.) Marcus tolerated this fooling around but he's prone to jealousy, especially when Jonathan makes admiring comments about Lucus' bigger-than-average penis. Matthew, a relatively new arrival and the only one of the four who takes his vows seriously, is sick and tired of being treated as a sex toy by the alcoholic, emotionally abusive Lucus. (Lucus' rationale for being with Matthew: "You're here and it beats jerking off.") Matthew is also alone among them in that he doesn't smoke pot, make leering comments, or break into numbers from Dreamgirls. In any case, he brings to the dinner a bottle of wine and a bombshell announcement that will shake up everybody's lives.

The idea of an ecclesiastical Boys in the Band isn't as far-fetched as it sounds, given the many scandals in the news involving priests in clandestine gay relationships. And the one thing Locusts Have No King has going for it is an appreciation for the mental adjustments that they must make in order to balance their desires with the demands of their vocations. The loophole that at least three of the characters cling to -- that vows of celibacy don't apply, because they cover sex outside of marriage, and, in any case, priests don't take vows of chastity anymore -- is one that I've heard from real-life men of the cloth.

Otherwise, however, Locusts Have No King is a pretty turgid affair, with leaden exposition and endless foreshadowing of the crisis to come. The bitchy, sub-Mart Crowley dialogue isn't entirely off the mark, as repartee of this ilk tends to thrive in hothouse environments like these, but it tends to state the obvious: When invited by Matthew to share his feelings, Lucus snaps, "If I wanted to feel, I'd be on the other side of the confessional." He also insists that Jesus was gay: "He was tempted in every way possible. He was at least bi-curious." Filling in Marcus as he enters from the shower, Matthew says, "We were talking about what we gave up for Lent. I gave up wine. You gave up marijuana. And apparently Jonathan has given up anal penetration."

Adding a weird and wild spin is the play's supernatural element: Jonathan pours some club soda into a glass for Matthew and it turns into red wine. A series of earthquake rumbles shakes the building. Someone tosses a red-hot glowing crystal through the window. And why does Matthew keep mispronouncing Lucus' name as "Locust?" I can't explain any of this except to add that it leads directly to the nuttiest ending of any play I've seen this season, bar none.

Under the sometimes awkward direction of David Mendizábal, Liam Torres (Marcus) and David Grimm (Jonathan) do their best to put some sting into their frail wisecracks. As Matthew, John J. Concado employs a rather slow, stunned delivery, which is apparently meant to show that he suffers from a tormented conscience. Dan Domingues is the only one who seems to get inside his character, convincingly suggesting that Lucus is a devoted priest who self-medicates with sex and liquor to get through the day.

Paul Tate dePoo III's set, a wood-paneled living/dining room with an inlaid wood floor and an alabaster ("It's gay code for light fixture," says Marcus), is faithful to the look of many a rectory interior. Jesse Madapat's sound design includes a number of effects, especially those earthquake tremors, that add a strongly sinister note. Ari Fulton's costumes are generally fine, and the bizarre getup he has imagined for the finale, crazy as it is, is a notable act of imagination. Alan C. Edwards' lighting is perfectly okay.

There's probably a good, maybe even great, play inside this material, but Christopher doesn't have the skill -- not yet, anyway -- to get at it. Locusts Have No King doesn't even have enough vitality to scandalize. Watch out for that ending, however. -- David Barbour

(31 March 2016)

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