Among the many fascinating and thought-provoking moments in J. Julian Christopher’s “The Locusts Have No King,” now at Intar, is a discussion of the difference between celibacy and chastity. That distinction, real in linguistic and historical terms if not in Roman Catholic doctrine, provides the out for the four priests who inhabit David Mendizábal’s strongly directed production.
The priests have created a snug life for themselves in an unnamed, evidently large parish’s rectory, where they share companionship, intimacy, and no small amount of sex. Their cozy set-up is threatened, however, when the youngest among the priests, Matthew, decides he must begin to live openly and honestly as a gay man. Recognizing that the rationale he and his fellow priests have relied on is at odds with Church policy, he knows he must leave the priesthood, a move that could expose the others and create a crisis. Lucus, Jonathan, and Marcus –– yes, the Gospels’ authors are invoked here in the priests’ names –– struggle to maintain their status quo while clinging to their callings.
Intar stages new play about gay identity in a sometimes inhospitable world
What ensues is a fascinating, sensitive, and often heartbreaking conversation about the cost of lives lived in the closet and how that impacts different generations. Was the priesthood the only avenue for the older gay men in the group to achieve security? Perhaps it was. Far from criticizing religion, Christopher employs the Church as a metaphor for the larger society, with the struggle faced by the priests reflective of the more universal challenge of living with integrity. Even in 2016, living openly can be threatening for LGBT people.
“The Locusts Have No King” –– developed by Intar as part of its mission of producing Latino voices in English –– relies heavily on magical realism, with earthquakes and unexplained occurrences shaking the physical world as much as the intellectual and spiritual realms. If the explosive ending isn’t really a resolution, it is dramatic and powerful. The implication here is that this incendiary issue will not be resolved any time soon.
The cast is consistently good. Liam Torres and David Grimm are lovers Marcus and Jonathan, respectively. Jonathan, the more sexually-driven of the two, was a former lover of Lucus, the intense and charming Dan Domingues, who in turn is trying to keep the lid on his disintegrating relationship with Matthew, an engaging John J. Concado. Matthew is not only conflicted about his vows, but also jealous of the past relationship that Lucus and Jonathan shared.
The enforced intimacy among the men and their overlapping connections keep the tensions high throughout. Like Sylvia Plath’s “Bell Jar,” the confinement these men feel in their roles and in themselves inevitably proves combustible. What results is a poignant reminder of the challenges facing anyone who tries to be true to themself in an environment full of conflicting demands.
THE LOCUSTS HAVE NO KING | Intar Theatre, 500 W. 52nd St. | Through May 1: Wed.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sun at 5 p.m. | $30 at ovationtix.com or 866-811-4111 | Ninety mins., no intermission