Cast Your Nets: Last Days of Judas Iscariot
If one were to go looking for potential subjects for comedy, chances are Judas Iscariot and his betrayal of Jesus probably wouldn't be tops on most people's lists. Afterall, it's a bit of a stickywicket for about the, oh, I don't know, 2.1 BILLION Christians here on planet Earth. So, if you're going to go trawling for jokes in these particular waters you best be one helluva talentEd Fisherman.
Fortunately, American playwright, screenwriter, director and actor Stephen Adly Guirgis is quite an angler, as he explores many angles, comic, tragic, psychological and philosophical in his award-winning play, "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot," now at The Mobtown Players theater.
Kudos to director Mark C. Franceshini who had the daunting task of putting this intriguing courtroom drama with a cast of 15 actors on Mobtown's diminutive stage. The two-act, 2 ½ hour production seemed to fly by, particularly given the caliber of acting which was excellent; as my theater companion noted several times, the casting was spot on, with professionals clearly reveling in their colorful roles and clever, thought-provoking and witty lines.
"Last Days" opens with a touching monologue by Deb Carson as Henrietta Iscariot, though we do not know as the curtain rises that she is the mother of Judas. We only can feel her pain, that of a mother who is forced to bury her own son, abandoned by friends and family. She speaks of her son's birth and how in that moment she embraced a love that knew no equal. It's a moment designed to, from the start, move the audience into a new perspective.
At this point we switch to comedy as Jessica Woodward Baker appears as the winged angel, Gloria, who proceeds to provide us with some exposition as to where we are...it's a place called Hope which evidently is a step down from Purgatory. We're in a courtroom, with a judge in robes and wig (Jeb Beard as Judge Littlefield), a bailiff dressed like a "In Living Color" fly girl (Rachel Lee Rash), and a variety of other wandering if not lost souls who come to comprise the jury.
Quickly dispatching characters like Thorseen the Implacable (Wil Neumeyer) and Benedict Arnold (Hugh Carson) with a gavel smash and a shouted "NEXT CASE!", Littlefield eventually make his way to the case of Judas thanks to a tenacious defense attorney (Melissa O'Brien as Fabiana Cunningham) and the persuasive powers of Saint Monica (Kelly Rene Adams).
Adams was a crowd favorite in her portrayal of Saint Monica as a tough, black, spitfire who explains how she, as the mother of St. Augustine, "nagged" her way into beatification. She uses her skills to nag God into giving Fabiana a writ to force the judge into hearing Judas' case.
That is, if Judas (Brian S. Kraszewski) even cares. "When I first saw him, I thought he looked retarded," Saint Monica quips, trying to rouse him out of a catatonic stupor with comic references to "30 pieces of silver" and invitations to "let's go betray someone, you feel like betraying today?"
Michael Baker plays the sycophantic Yusef El-Fayoumy (or "El Fajita" as Judge Littlefield calls him), the prosecuting attorney in suit-and-fez with swarmy, smiley, hand-wringing delight when he's not trying to win the favors of Fabiana who has nothing but disdain for him.
Witnesses from history are summoned, including Sigmund Freud (Hugh Carson), Caiaphas the Elder (Jeb Beard), Mother Theresa (Kathy Blake) and Simon the Zealot (Will Carson) whose collective insights attempt to delve the true relationship between Judas and Jesus. Was Judas actually "Jesus' heart"? Was Jesus closer to Judas than the other apostles? Did Judas betray Jesus in order to force him into a role the Zealots had envisioned for the Messiah, as violent revolutionary? Was Judas actually a GOOD person?
In between courtroom scenes we are shown vignettes from Judas' childhood and hear stories from Saints Peter (Hugh Carson), Matthew and Thomas (both played by Will Carson). These moments serve to tell us something about Jesus as well as Judas and in a language most would not expect from saints--Thomas calls Judas "a d**k" but still manages to convey his sympathy for Judas' plight.
Satan (Dave Padgett) is also called to give testimony, but his most powerful revelations come, not about Judas, but as to the character of Fabiana and Yusef, forcing each to see the truth about themselves as horribly flawed, incomplete souls who cannot find home in either Heaven or Hell. Satan is also given some of the most clever lines, noting as he takes the stand, "Never let it be said that the Prince of Lies stood in the way of truth."
Ultimately, all this is just a buildup to the final scene where Jesus (J Hargrove) entreats Judas to understand and accept his love. God, afterall, loves everyone. So must he not love Judas? But does Judas want that love? If Judas betrayed Jesus, did not Jesus betray him as well? Where was Jesus when Judas was overcome with despair, finally seeking release at the end of a rope, hung from an olive tree branch? But was that not Judas' choice? Who is right here? Who is wrong?
"The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" is about what each of us decides we believe--what do we have faith in? Do we accept God's love or do we make it conditional on how we expect God to be? "Last Days" definitely leaves its audience thinking, laughing, brooding, nodding and shaking it's collective head, all at the same time--and isn't that what good theater is all about?
"The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" continues its run at The Mobtown Players theater at 3600 Clipper Mill Road, Suite 114 in Baltimore, now through April 16th, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 (general admission) and $12 (students and seniors). Tickets may be purchased at the door or online at http://www.mobtownplayers.com.