THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOTby Stephen Adly Guirgis
Director – Branson White
Asst. Director – Danny Macchietto
Stage Design – Jason Leyva
Costume and Prop Design – Ellen Shaddock
Light/Sound Design – Branson White
Stage Manager – Patricia Harris
Trey Albert – Judas Iscariot
R. Andrew Aguilar – Saint Peter/Pontius Pilate
Celi Radillo Bowling – Gloria/Saint Monica/Mother Theresa
Magdiel Carmona – El-Fayoumy
Rachel Clo – Loretta/Sister Glenna/Mary Magdalene
Shawn Gann – Saint Matthew/Saint Thomas
Josh Hahlen – Matthias of Galilee
Lynsey Hale - Cunningham
Garrett Hayes – Butch Honeywell
Lynwood Henry – Sigmund Freud/Caiaphas the Elder
Rose Anne Holman – Henrietta Iscariot
Jason Leyva – Jesus of Nazareth
Sean Massey – Bailiff/Simon the Zealot
John Pfaffenberger – Judge Littlefield
Doak Rapp – Satan
Reviewed Performance: 3/14/2015
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Such is the case with The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. This 2005 play by Stephen Adly Guirgis poses questions about Judas in the guise of a Purgatory court system trial. Producer Jason Leyva aims to push the boundaries of theater and does so with this play. I need to caution here that if you want to see it, don’t take the kids, or your parents, or maybe anyone you know. This script makes Richard Pryor’s comedy routine seem like a business meeting at the Hilton.
Directed by Branson White, he also designed lighting and sound cues. It was a huge challenge, but the easiest may have been the set. Set design by Jason Leyva was a wide courtroom with defense and prosecution platforms on either side of a tall judicial bench, with a witness stand in front of the bench, facing outward. Lighting made the trial sequences bright while individual spots on the darkened stage illuminated monologues and private moments. Sound effects incorporated moving water (Sea of Galilee, I presume) and a musical score that might have been the entirety of Bat out of Hell by Meatloaf. Illuminated areas spotlighted other locations within Purgatory and flashback sequences to times before or after the big betrayal.
While the events at trial were actually in the 1st century, the trial was set in modern day Purgatory. Those more recently deceased intermingled with those hundreds to two thousand years earlier. And so modern day clothing also intermingled with 1st century fashion. Ellen Shaddock got credit for this, I imagine a few actors just wore modern street or dress suits, while others donned robes and capes and other Judean clothing. Same was true of the props. There was a mix of things like wooden staffs, Jesus’ famous foot-washing paraphernalia and briefcases for the attorneys. There was even a case of beer.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot begins with a simple scene of Henrietta Iscariot, Judas’ mother, lamenting her son’s suicide while Jesus silently and gently washes her feet. This leads to a trial and a lot of courtroom drama.
Rose Anne Holman played Henrietta in one of the most poignant scenes of the play, a mom mourning her son. She performed it with gravity, pathos and sadness, giving a glimpse that Judas might be more than his history. Here, as well as throughout the play, Jason Leyva, as a completely silent Jesus, showed Christ-like persona as he ministered to others and hovered around the proceedings, keeping a slightly calm balance against the upheaval on the courtroom.
Trey Albright, as Judas, sat silently, sans motion and emotion until the end, as every character talked about their perception of him, a bit like a bio-documentary on TV. At one point Albright took on the young Judas persona while his mother told stories of his youth. And though Albright looked the same, he mesmerized into the childish boy. Later when Judas interacted with Jesus, Albright finally exploded emotionally as Judas questioned Jesus about abandonment. The answer was a bit surprising.
The trial of Judas was brought to court by defense attorney Cunningham, played by Lynsey Hale. Her opponent was El-Fayoumy, played by Magdiel Carmona. The Purgatory prosecutor and Cunningham became feuding lawyer caricatures and Hale generally kept Cunningham cool as a cucumber even as she was attacked from all sides, including the judge. Carmona played his lawyer always over the top, a bit like a bumbling prosecutor. His white jacket and red pants looked like a lounge singer, as did some of the smooth, sleazy tactics, so he was likely intended as comic relief, and Carmona played it that way.
John Pfaffenberger’s Judge Littlefield was irreverent, over-controlling, sexist, and equally hateful to all. This character didn’t even allow a Writ signed by God! Pfaffenberger vocally sounded the part of an overly cynical, often angry, judge, only moderating his outbursts in the end to rule the case evenly.
Judas was sitting in Hell while all the rest were in Purgatory, so Satan, as a witness, had to be conjured into the courtroom. Doak Rapp played Satan as a smooth-talking, suave ladies man in a black suit and silk red shirt. Satan was, of course, scornful of everyone, but gave some testimony Cunningham wanted. Rapp’s repartee with Hale was often loud and animated as though his character was incensed to be there. At one point Rapp delivered an incredibly loud and violent vitriolic diatribe, somewhat Satan-like. If an expression of hell was what he intended, it was very effective.
Among many who were called to testify, Celi Radillo Bowling played Mother Theresa as a wise old woman who had no patience for the prosecutor’s constant antics. With a change of clothes, accent and physical posture, Bowling also played Saint Monica and a New York street person. Gloria was a bit like a narrator, introducing some characters and providing some backstory. Bowling’s portrayal gave her a heavy New York street accent and a highly cynical, matter-of-fact perspective on the world. It was unique!
Another dual role involved Lynwood Henry playing Sigmund Freud, complete with accent, dark beard, pipe and 19th Century German suit. Henry created the body stance and movement of an academic, sure of his genius. But in a real stroke of costume change genius, he left one side of the stage and entered the other as Caiaphas the Elder. That’s Caiaphas of the ancient Sanhedrin court, the Jew who paid Judas thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus. In this persona, Henry was in full Jewish regalia of floor- length robe, brown neck scarf, white head wrapping, long gray beard, and walking stick. Sporting a somewhat Jewish accent, Henry was funny in both roles, though Caiaphas’ cross-examination by Cunningham was tense, calling to question who was to blame for Judas’ actions, and Henry’s self-defense provided a powerful sense of wilting under the accusations against Caiaphas.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is filled with monologues. Each character has lengthy monologues on their own story and their connection with Jesus and Judas. While some were quiet and pensive, many ranged from loud to very loud. With fifteen actors playing twenty-three roles, it was tiring. Monologues are an important part of giving backstory and allowing a character to explore inner feelings. They were well done, but too many.
Stephen Adly Guirgis wrote this play as a comedy and drama that pokes holes in the arguments that Judas was pure evil. To be true, I don’t think he had an opinion, and in the end it may have been a play about something more current than the Judas story, maybe something to do with a more current death. But this play was too angry to be good comedy, though monologues were filled with hundreds of one-liners, and too over-the-top to be dramatic, though there was a lot of pathos and alternatives to the original story. The text is too lengthy and has to be spoken very quickly without pause so that if one was inclined to laugh at joke lines they’d miss dialogue. There was none of the most important requirement of comedy – breathing room. A punch line in a one-liner went by too fast to catch it. Actors had little time to play with words to make them land, and the audience couldn’t connect with a joke because another started immediately. Same with the monologues. Even with this speed of dialogue, the production was about two and a half hours. It probably should have been three.
That being said, the actors did exceptionally well with multiple characters and long monologues. They poured their souls into their parts, played them with conviction, and gave marvelous performances, each speaking their character’s beliefs passionately. Individually, I loved each one as a piece of art and how they revealed important perspectives about the story of Judas’ betrayal. But it was too much - too many words in too short a time to allow me to experience humor or sadness. Add the fact that many characters delivered monologues that would shock a hip-hop artist! I’m not a prude but the text was way over the top and the many references to M-F were gratuitous in telling the story. Again, though, the actors said their lines with full power and courage and I applaud them for that.
“L.I.P. Service has continuously offered alternatives for the main stream of creative endeavors and strives to maintain artistic excellence while doing so.” Jason Leyva brings productions to life that few others dare to try and he wins awards for doing so. It’s a great service to the theater experience. As difficult as The Last Days of Judas Iscariot was for me, I still recommend it to theater lovers. You will be fully engaged from the first moment. Your beliefs and your perceptions will be challenged. You’ll be uncomfortable. But you will see an evening of “artistic excellence” as these actors and production crew deal with this challenging work.
The Firehouse Theatre
2535 Valley View Lane
Farmers Branch, Texas 75234
Plays through March 28th
Thursday - Saturday at 8:00 pm
Tickets are $15.00, general admission.
For information and tickets, visit www.jaysonleyva.com or call their box office at 817-689-6461.