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Performing Arts
 

Bible stories


Judas goes on trial in an effective dramedy that calls a host of characters throughout history to the stand.

Larry Laneer March 2nd, 2011

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday through March 19
Ghostlight Theatre Club, 3110 N. Walker
GhostlightTheatreClub.com, 286-9412
$15, $10 seniors

Ghostlight Theatre Club dishes up a heavy dose of religion — Christianity division — in the 2005 dramedy “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” by Stephen Adly Guirgis. His plays are not produced much around here, so this is a good chance to see one.

In “Iscariot,” we witness Judas’ trial taking place in Purgatory in the present — or who knows when, really. There, one thing people have plenty of is time.

The smug Yusef El-Fayoumy (David Mays, solid as usual) prosecutes the case, and Gypsy-Irish lawyer Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Emily Etherton) represents the defendant. Both lawyers call several historical figures to the witness stand. Cunningham tries the insanity defense with Sigmund Freud (Chris Crane). Pontius Pilate (Patton Graves), played as a smarmy politician, mainly pleads the Fifth Amendment.

The story may be ancient, but the characters, dialogue and costumes by Christi Newbury are contemporary. St. Peter (Judson Adair) wears overalls and swigs beer, a real hick fisherman. St. Monica (Rosemary Orwig Rodgers, who also directs the production, has cast herself in this plum role) spouts profanity-laced jive in a rollicking monologue (“Yo, Judas, you got change for 30 pieces of Silver, mothahf-----?!”).

The somewhat effeminate Satan (the fine Daniel Leeman Smith in a notable performance and hellish haircut) is both seductive and disturbing. Eric Bogosian played Satan in the original production of “Iscariot,” and I suspect his Satan was quite different, but Smith is spot-on as what might be the villain of all theatrical villains.

Jesus of Nazareth (Christopher Robinson, with stigmata) is hardly seen until the end, when he has what is supposed to be a cathartic scene with Judas (Rick Foresee).

The absurdist dialogue and contemporary slang too often are not that funny. What’s funny is the idea of these historical figures speaking in such familiar, colloquial and piquant language. Mother Teresa (TooToo Cirlot) frustrates Cunningham during questioning. Cunningham inquires about money Mother Teresa received from the Duvalier family of Haiti.

“Blood money?” she asks. “No. Cashier’s check,” Mother Teresa replies.

El-Fayoumy grills Freud about his cocaine use, and Freud retorts, “Your mother denied you her breast, didn’t she?” Simon the Zealot (Warren Johnson) quotes Jesus: “I’m going to die soon, so let’s just chill.”

Orwig Rodgers stages the play effectively for the most part, handling the 17-actor cast, which is large for GTC’s intimate space, with efficiency. Most of the audience has poor sight lines for a couple of scenes in which Orwig Rodgers has actors sitting on the stage.

In “Iscariot,” Guirgis peppers the audience with a host of contemporary cultural references and Sunday-school theology, and he emphasizes that great old trait of the Homo sapiens: guilt. His lesson is that Jesus is all about forgiving the guilty.

If Jesus can forgive Judas, why can’t we forgive, say, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney? Or even those who often are the hardest to forgive: ourselves.

 
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