Locusts Have No King
New Conservatory Theatre Center
Jonathan and Marcus are in final prep for a dinner party with their neighbors, Lucas and Matthew. All four live in the same building and work in the same profession for the same institution. All are also in the closet at work and pretty much everywhere else except in the confines of the building where they live. The connections between the four are many – including the former, maybe-sometimes-current lovers, Jonathan and Lucas.
Even before the salad is tossed, tensions are high; but in New Conservatory Theatre Center’s West Coast premiere of C. Julian Jiménez’s Locusts Have No King, there is nothing in the snarky, snippy conversation of the dinner’s opening course that can quite prepare them or us for what will be the evening’s crowning, hell-fire-and-brimstone dessert. However, the seventy-five minutes that it takes to get there takes this play twisting and turning in and out of extended biblical quotes; religious debates; and other-worldly, apocalyptical events to the point that the short time spent at this dinner party seems in the end, much too long.
Why these four, gay men live as they do and even why they have chosen both their shared profession and their current partners is something that should be left for the audience member to discover. Many of the questions the playwright seems to be raising center on that discovery in the course of the production itself. But the heavy emphasis on the Gospels of the Christian Bible in both references and in the characters themselves – Matthew, Marcus, Lucas, and Jonathan – becomes a bit heavy-handed, with there being a climatic storm of events that takes a reference from Proverbs 30:27 (“Locusts have no king, yet they go forth in band) and places us in the middle of Revelations. For me, it all is a bit too much and not all that interesting.
That is not to take away from fine acting by this cast of four or the incredible set design and lighting design mastery of Devin Kasper and Spense Matubang, respectively. The well-appointed, Long Island apartment with its corner fireplace, portable bar, and nicely attired dining and living rooms is about to undergo major transitions that test to the fullest the creativity of the designers. What they must do each day to get the set ready for the next performance has to be a monumental task.
Donald Currie is the fifty/sixty-something Jonathan who loves a hit from a bong following a climax provided by his partner, Marcus. He is fast to make snappy quips and is quick to deny – but not totally successful to convince – that his past affair with Lucas is over. His whimsical references to Lucas’ penis length are enough to start a back-and-forth round of digs between him and Marcus while the two still find that making out in the middle of a fight is hot, too.
Mid-forties Marcus (Daniel Redmond) is none too subtle about his own attraction to the younger Matthew, parading dripping out of the shower only in towel to make flirting remarks to the early arriving Matthew. Marcus is not totally happy nor unhappy with Jonathan; but tonight, that balance may begin tipping as the table conversations heat up.
Matthew (Matthew Bridges) is the youngest of this quartet of supposed friends and is by far the most idealistic in following the profession they have all chosen. He tries to bring some decorum to the table manners of others and to remind them all of the ethics their profession supposedly demands. But he is in a relationship with the much-older Lucas that is even shakier in nature than that of Marcus and Jonathan. When the already drunk Lucas arrives late, Nathan Tyluki’s Lucas – clearly an alcoholic who cannot wait too long before refilling his cocktail glass – raises the level of across-the-table arrow throwing, with his target set particularly on his own, meeker, and now sulking partner, Matthew.
The rounds of conversation become ever more explosive as the subtly of accusations and threats become much more point-blank as they fly in all directions. The only times there are pauses are when strange events spice up the meal even more than the verbal brawls – little things like the building shaking; poured water turning red; and a small, meteor-like object breaking a window and hotly blazing across the room. Signs things are not going so well? Sure. Signs that worse things are coming? For sure.
The banter and debate among the four and the deteriorating relationships between both partners and friends is mildly interesting; and the script is sharp enough in its quips and barbs to provide some entertainment. But the content becomes too focused for me on a debate that does not really interest me that much, and the supernatural directions that the production heads are not my cup of tea. For me, Locusts Have No King is one of the few, if ever any, times I have ever gone to New Conservatory Theatre Center and walked out disappointed.
Rating: 2 E
Locusts Have No King continues through May 14, 2023, in production by New Conservatory Theatre Center on the Walker stage, 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. Tickets are available at https://www.nctcsf.org .
Photo Credits: Lois Tema
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