Closeted homosexuals fearing the consequences of coming out might seem to be an out-of-date premise for a play in the America of 2023. But what if the homosexuals in question are Catholic priests with parish duties including teaching in the Catholic school system? These are the queers that gay liberation forgot.
What playwright C. Julian Jiménez has set out to do is explore the extremely persistent heritage of guilt, shame, and the history of abuse that still effects gay men today, even under the best of circumstances. By focusing on the lives of four closeted Catholic priests, he puts these feelings under a magnifying glass, and then shines the light of the sun through the lens and starts a conflagration.
The play opens as Jonathan and his much younger lover Matthew are preparing to host a dinner party for their friends Marcus and Lucus. (John, Matthew, Mark, and Luke – get it?) They live in what appears to be an upper-middle-class, well-appointed apartment—fine art on the wall, Persian carpet on the floor, up scale furniture, and expensive window treatments—but we quickly learn that this is the first of many dissimulations to follow. They are not wealthy; they are poor parish priests living in a well-appointed rectory owned by the Church and at the behest of a tolerant bishop. Their friends, Marcus and Lucus (also priests) live in the same building in different rooms. They are not rich but poor, not fancy free but dependent. (And kudos are due here to the excellent set design by Devin Kasper.) All is not well between Jonathan and Matthew. Matthew is jealous of Lucas (one of the soon to arrive dinner guests) with whom Jonathan has had an affair in the past. Jonathan is dismissive of Matthew’s concerns. Their discussion is interrupted by the arrival of Marcus, just as Matthew heads for the shower to prepare for dinner. Marcus is also unhappy about the Jonathan/Lucas affair. The dinner party promises to be less than comfortable. Sparks are likely to fly.
When Lucas arrives, drunk as a skunk, and still in vestments after having attended the death of a beloved parishioner, the sparks fly indeed. The men, under Marcus’s persistent questioning, begin to delve into their respective couplings and cracks begin to show. Marcus, it seems, has begun to have doubts about living as a closeted priest with an unfaithful older man, and is considering—clutch your pearls ladies!—leaving the priesthood to live honestly and openly as a gay man. This, the others fear, will blow their more or less comfortable lives apart. The Bishop, after all, has been willing to turn a blind eye as long as they are discrete, but the outing of a parish priest would definitely put pee in the soup. The discussion veers into matters of moral theology. Marcus asks, “My God! Aren’t you tired of living a life of duplicity? What kind of priest can you be with a life like that?”
“Of COURSE it’s duplicitous,” counters drunken Lucas. “OBVIOUSLY! Who would take this job if it weren’t?” This is one of many extremely funny bon mots with which the dinner conversation is peppered.
As they sit down to dinner, Marcus insists on leading a prayer. This is over Lucas’s objections on the ground that they are not “at work,” but Marcus is adamant. Once the invocation is over things get weirder. God enters the picture and it’s not pretty.
The pressure builds and builds, with supernatural results (and many laughs) and climaxes in an unexpected ending that seems, well, perfect, but impossible to describe without being a spoiler, and I don’t want to do that.
This is a play of profound ideas, intense emotions, and authentic spiritual reflection. It’s deep, and it’s funny. It’s the kind of work that demands a lot out of the actors and this company rises to the occasion.
Matthew Bridges is particularly good as the conventionally pious Marcus, and has the most interesting character arc of the four. Bridges displays an impressive emotional range, taking the audience for quite a ride. As the deeply spiritual drunk, Lucas, Nathan Taluki is heartbreaking. Donald Currie plays Jonathan and Daniel Redmond is Jonathan’s lover Matthew.. Currie’s portrayal of a man who simply goes with the flow is charming and chilling, while Redmond’s comic chops are very much in evidence as Matthew.
“Locusts Have No King” is a surprising, wildly clever play, to say the least. It packs a punch worth pondering.
“Locusts Have No King” plays at New Conservatory Theatre Center through May 14, 2023. For further information, click here.
Rating: **** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“Locusts Have No King,” by C. Julian Jiménez. West coast premiere produced by New Conservatory Theatre Center. Director: Richard A. Mosqueda. Dramaturgy: Kieran Beccia. Costume & Prop Designer: Jorge P. Hernández. Set Designer: Devin Kasper. Intimacy Choreographer: Muffy Koster. Fight Coach: Kristen Matia. Lighting Designer: Spence Matubang. Sound Designer: Lana Palmer.
Matthew: Matthew Bridges. Jonathan: Donald Currie. Marcus: Daniel Redmund. Lucus: Nathan Taluki.