Colin Stuart and Scott Cox in Crucifixion
(Photo © Stephanie Temple)
Colin Stuart and Scott Cox in Crucifixion
(Photo © Stephanie Temple)
"Life is all about connections. You don't have to understand them; you just have to open yourself to the possibility of them." These elegant lines, flowing from the character Jackson Master -- a gay priest -- readily apply to the world we live in and to the world inhabited by Terrence McNally's magical new play Crucifixion.

Deftly staged by Ed Decker, this is a brand-new play that McNally still considers a work in progress. As the title suggests, it's about the Catholic faith. But it's also about being gay and having great sex and coupling that sex with faith. More importantly, it concerns the relationships we have in our daily lives and the connective tissue that binds us together.

The story moves adroitly between various time periods and places, notably New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. As it opens, James Giraud, a Jesuit priest played with wondrous clarity by Colin Stuart, is discovered mounting the naked body of television mogul Don Capps (the ever-fascinating Scott Cox). But this isn't a lustful tryst; this is murder. Just after the slaying, James seeks absolution from two fellow priests: the gay, practical Tom Russo (Bradford Cooreman) and the flamboyantly gay Jackson Master (Javier Galitó-Cava). Later on, Giraud's brother, a composer named John (Paul Araquistain), and his half-sister Genevieve (Camilla Busnovetsky) also hear Giraud's confession; he asks, "Is it ever all right to kill someone?"

McNally uses Capps' murder as the catalyst to explore some very stimulating issues. What does it means to believe in something that directly conflicts with one's actions? Can the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" be weighed against the cost of not saving a soul? The openly sexual characters inevitably face off with the Catholic Church; the men and women of Crucifixion must weigh who they are, gay or straight, against what they do with their lives. Often, the answer is not clear, for compromise seldom is. Thanks to McNally's sharp wit and craft, Crucifixion addresses these issues without plunging into polemics.

The play was developed at New Conservatory Theatre Center over a two-year period, with a most unusual casting process: All 11 actors were cast before the first word of dialogue danced across the page. With their specific talents in mind, McNally was able to work and rework the play to their strengths, which is in part responsible for the superb characterizations and performances.

Andrew Nance is splendid as the wannabe actor-cum-prostitute Alan Lesker, who is ultimately the glue that McNally uses to piece the puzzle of the murder together. Capps' co-producer Carrie (Cheryl Smith) and her lover Bethany (Lizzie Calogero) are perfectly matched opposites, while sultry blues singer Bernadette (Amanda King) and her gay-husband-for-green-card-purposes Schuyler (Patrick Michael Dukeman) mesh and contrast like a true married couple.

Creating such a complicated new work must have been a challenge. Fortunately, McNally and company have succeeded in delivering a piece that is both highly enjoyable and thought provoking.