Locusts Have No King
There's more than meets the eye in this mysterious new thriller.
One middle aged man pleasures another during the opening moments of J. Julian Christopher's Locusts Have No King, now making its world premiere at INTAR Theatre. The recipient smokes marijuana while seated on a richly upholstered chair. Everything about their home is plush: the heavy curtains, the crystal decanters, and the stained-glass sconces. Fresh dry cleaning hangs on the doorknob. The two men are waiting for their friends (another couple who live in the same building) to join them for an intimate dinner party. They're just your typical decadent homosexuals occupying an exclusive Manhattan co-op, right? Perhaps not. Under the sly direction of David Mendizábal, the truth behind this wickedly delicious play reveals itself in a tantalizingly slow striptease.
Here's what we can discern early on: Jonathan (David Grimm) and Marcus (Liam Torres) inhabit this deluxe space. Jonathan used to be in a relationship with Lucus (Dan Domingues), but they broke up years ago. Still, they continued to sleep together (with Marcus' full knowledge) until Lucus started shacking up with gay novice Matthew (John J. Concado). It makes for some awkward chitchat when the tightly wound and very possessive Matthew arrives to the party alone, armed with dessert. Marcus thinks it might be less weird if they didn't all live under one roof. "Moving isn't really an option," Jonathan softly responds, fondling his freshly laundered garments.
While we may not at first understand why they're stuck in this palace (no spoilers here), we want to know more. With a Hitchcockian eye for suspense, Mendizábal instills a creeping sense of dread, an ever-present suspicion that something here is not right. Religious icons adorn the wood paneling like the giant painting of Rebecca in the halls of Manderley (rectory chic interior design by Paul Tate DePoo III). Occasionally, the alabaster chandelier shakes violently, causing the lights to flicker (subtly creepy design by Alan C. Edwards). A strange igneous rock crashes through the window. All the while John, Matthew, Mark, and Luke hash out the intricacies of their tangled relationship, occasionally pausing to recite from their corresponding Gospels. It all amounts to the most epically strange drinking and fighting play in years.
We're able to blast into the twilight zone thanks to superbly grounded performances by the cast. Daddy bears Grimm and Torres look and sound like a real long-term gay couple, sniping at each other from across the room in a manner both hilarious and hurtful. Since Matthew is the most recently out of the closet, Concado endows him with a stiffness that resembles an alien acclimating to Earth (costume designer Ari Fulton shrewdly outfits him in a plaid shirt buttoned up to the neck, no tie). He's definitely a wet blanket, but we understand his frustration in light of his exasperating boyfriend: As portrayed by Domingues, Lucus aggressively plays the life of the party: He's obnoxious, domineering, and just a little hot. We may dislike him, but we never question that his milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.
Christopher's synthesis of queer life and Catholic theology is remarkably (but perhaps unsurprisingly) cohesive. We hold on to every word as he strings us along through his undeniably entertaining story. Unfortunately, he squanders the tension he and Mendizábal so meticulously build up on a somewhat incoherent finale. Still, the drama up to that breaking point is palpable, inescapably driven off a cliff by a volatile mix of fear and disillusionment. Locusts Have No King smartly captures the lengths to which we will go to protect our privilege, even if that privilege appears ridiculous to everyone outside our cloistered circle.