The most controversial and talked about play of the 1998 theatrical season begins: "We are going to tell you an old and familiar story." But from that point on, nothing feels quite familiar again. What follows is a story that parallels the New Testament's, and its subject is nothing less than the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. But McNally's Christ figure is a character named Joshua, a young 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, an object of scorn. He flees Corpus Christi in search of a more accepting environment, gathering along the way a group of disciples who are bound to him by his message of love and tolerance. Joshua delivers his Sermon on the Mount, and officiates at a gay marriage ceremony, but, inevitably, his radical teachings (like Jesus') will not deliver him from his fate. 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.
"A serious, even reverent retelling of the Christ story in a modern idiom—quite close, in its way, to the original…If the point is to make Jesus' teachings live for a contemporary audience, activist Christians should be hailing this play, not trying to suppress it…One of McNally's best, most moving and personal works. His updating of the Christ story is witty, but not patronizing, as sober and cleansing as a dip in baptismal waters." —Time Magazine. "CORPUS CHRISTI imagines the coming of a second messiah…References to contemporary gay culture collide with talk of Roman Centurions. The apostles spread the gospel by day, disco down at night…Yet the essential truth at the heart of the play cannot be dismissed: If today a gay man arrived bearing the same gifts Christ brought to the world, his journey might end just as terribly." —Daily Variety. "To see CORPUS CHRISTI the day Matthew Shepard was crucified on a Wyoming fence merely for being gay is to experience a jolt of recognition…Yes, McNally's Joshua/Jesus is gay; yes, the work is political and will offend some…McNally uses the Christ story to tell a contemporary tale of the fight against cruelty, division, hatred, and, above all, hypocrisy." —BackStage.