Beastly, priestly 'Locusts Have No King' at NCTC

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday March 28, 2023
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The cast of 'Locusts Have No King' (photo: Lois Tema)
The cast of 'Locusts Have No King' (photo: Lois Tema)

New Conservatory Theatre Center, never afraid to take on hot-button topics in its efforts to explore the full spectrum of queer experience on stage, is once again about to touch the third rail of homosexuality vis-à-vis Catholicism — famously grabbed hold of in NCTC productions of Terrence McNally's "Corpus Christi" and "Crucifixion" — with the West Coast premiere of "Locusts Have No King."

A sort of wicked male "Golden Girls" by way of "The Exorcist," the show's five-week run begins this weekend; the April 7 and 9 performances will be accompanied by sure-to-be thorny on stage conversations with playwright C. Julian Jiménez.

In a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter, director Richard A. Mosqueda, one of the most exciting and sensitive young theater-makers in the Bay Area (NCTC's "A Picture of Two Boys; TheaterFIRST's "A Marriage"), described the play as a horror comedy. Like the squishy pulp beneath a locust's brittle carapace, there's serious creepiness under its crisp, bitchy surface.

The play's four characters are all gay men. They're also all Catholic priests. They're two couples. And two of them are a former couple.

When they get together for a high-strung dinner party in one pair's rectory apartment, all manner of hell breaks loose, and not just figuratively. (The ambitious technical elements of this production will need to be pitch-perfect to bring the show to a satisfying climax).

Playwright C. Julian Jiménez  

Jiménez has said that, after feeling somewhat bored by Mart Crowley's inarguably dated "The Boys In The Band," he wanted to put a fantastic spin on that play's scenario. And there's no doubt audiences will sense a Virginia Woolf at the apartment door.

Mosqueda said that both he and Jiménez were raised Catholic and, as gay men, "have very complex and conflicted relationships with the church."

Similar feelings are apparent in all four of the play's characters who, while officially closeted from parishioners, are open to each other about their sexuality, sometimes with a venomous flamboyance that points to desperation.

At the heart of the play lies the question of whether the church offers these deeply conflicted men a refuge or a hiding place. Jiménez also poses challenging meta-theatrical questions. To what extent is the role of a priest inherently performative? When the collar comes off, must the man remain collared? (One of the play's four fathers speaks of keeping his collar on when he goes to bars in order to get free drinks).

What exactly can a Modern Priesthood be, the play asks us? Once homosexuality enters the picture, are there new rules about infidelity? If blow jobs and bong hits are a part of the church's patriarchy, does the church exist at all?

One needn't be Catholic to feel shaken by these provocations.

Jiménez pries the institutional apart from the spiritual, and the light that comes between them illuminates more questions than answers.

Whether you're a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, a devout Saint Ignatius alum or merely an acolyte of Thespis, you'll find a prickly, ticklish sense of communion at this fascinating plague within a play.

'Locusts Have No King,' through May 14. $25-$65. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave. (415) 861-8972.

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