A gay ménage à quatre becomes a religious parable.
By Joel Benjamin
It helps to have some ecclesiastical knowledge to understand the barrage of references spouted by the four very diverse characters speaking the words of J. Julian Christopher’s Locusts Have No King at the very intimate Intar Theatre on the West Side. What begins as a bitchy gay domestic comedy gradually morphs into an apocalyptic morality tale with one very deep hole in its plot.
Locusts opens with an explicit sex act between Marcus (Liam Torres) and Jonathan (David Grimm) which then segues into preparation for a very tense dinner party which will eventually include their immediate neighbors, Matthew (John J. Concado) and Lucus (Dan Domingues).
Before pairing up with Marcus, Jonathan had a longstanding affair with Lucus. Matthew, when he arrives to confront Jonathan, makes it clear that he is unhappy with the simmering remains of that torrid love affair. He has reason to complain since he is Lucus’ new squeeze. Complicating matters—we soon discover—is the fact that all four are priests living under the same roof, practicing in the same Long Island church. Their leader is the handsome, charismatic Lucus whose late entrance to the dinner party signals a Walpurgis Night of confrontations, accusations, over indulgence in pot and alcohol and what might be deemed a spiritual cleansing.
A series of troubling events darken the evening, including ominous rumblings, a large stone tossed through the dining room window and a water-into-wine incident. Biblical references abound with each character quoting, at length, from the Gospels. The action occasionally surrealistically stops allowing each to talk directly to the audience. There are blackouts and bright flashes over the penne and salad and much explicit sex talk.
In the end Locusts is an uneasy morality tale, although who is sinning against whom is never clear because playwright Christopher never directly questions the Church’s admonitions against homosexuality, instead opting for a complicated philosophical jiggery-pokery by these characters to rationalize and de-sin their lascivious activities.
Whether the over-the-top climax is intended as a true and proper celestial (or satanic) punishment, is open to interpretation. The whole thing may be a complexly constructed joke.
The production is first rate, beginning with the extraordinary set by Paul Tate Depoo III which re-creates, in miniscule detail, the living quarters of the priests. At first it appears to be an old-fashioned, richly decorated apartment, but slowly reveals its real location with its subtle religious icons coming into focus. Ari Fulton’s costumes indicate the level of stylishness of each, from the geeky disarray of Matthew to the very sexy priestly garments worn by Lucus.
The lighting by Alan C. Edwards turns the tiny playing area—within an extremely tiny theater—into an important site, where important things will happen.
The acting is terrific although John J. Concado as Matthew, needs to lower the dark nerd quotient. He makes his character so dreary that it’s difficult to see what any of the other characters, particularly his lover, Lucus, would see in him. He is a metaphoric wet blanket well before he actually becomes a real one. David Grimm plays Jonathan as smart and smutty and as a man sure of his sexual attraction. Liam Torres’ Marcus is always on the brink of letting his jealousy of Lucus get in the way of his relationship with Jonathan, often lowering his frilly façade to let us see his angst. Dan Domingues as Lucus is darkly sensual and clearly used to using his physical and intellectual superiority to get his way, although, at the end, when he is thwarted, it’s fun to see the look on his face.
David Mendizábal, the director, made a monumental effort to make all the ups and downs of the plot move seamlessly along, sometimes thwarted by Mr. Christopher’s convoluted writing.
Locusts Have No King (March 18 – April 24, 2016)
500 West 52nd Street, at 10th Avenue
New York, NY
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.intartheatre.org
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Photos: Carol Rosegg