BWW Review: MASH NOTE TO THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT AND CORPUS CHRISTI at Henley Street Theatre Company And Richmond Triangle Players
This may be an appreciation, above all, of Richmond's Acts of Faith Festival. The challenge the festival sets for local theaters-for each to present a production that "deals with some aspect of faith"-has resulted in Richmond audiences being able to see countless thought-provoking plays since its inception in 2005.
There are two festival shows (and one that got away) on my mind-"The Last Days of Judas Iscariot," co-produced by Henley Street Theatre Company and Richmond Triangle Players in 2011; "Corpus Christi," RTP's 2018 entry; and "Grand Concourse," the 2017 TheatreLAB show I (unfortunately) missed.
"Last Days" is Stephen Adly Guirguis's provocative play about Judas' imaginary trial in Purgatory, with loads of both comedy and pathos. Bo Wilson's superb direction of the cast of 15 is memorable, along with a number of specific performances-Jill Bari Steinberg as Judas' mother; David Clark and Jennie Meharg as the opposing lawyers; Ronnie Brown as Pilate; and a powerful turn by Vinnie Gonzalez as Satan. The emotional zigs were breathtaking, Really, so many cast members did great work. I have to mention Kellita Wooten as an angel, Jesse Mattes as Jesus, Logan Bennett as Judas, Diana Carver as Saint Monica and Jonathan Conyers as a juror. And there were still more, and they were all great.
"Corpus Christi" is the Terrence McNally play that kicked off controversy in its 1998 premiere and really never stopped, though the RTP production was received with relative calm. The play posits that Jesus is a gay Texan, and the apostles are familiar contemporary folks. Like "Last Days," this play gives us a tremendous amount of food for thought, but what I remember most is, again, the beautiful performances of the actors. Adam Turck was wonderful as Joshua, who becomes Jesus; Chandler Hubbard was powerful as Judas. I was impressed by Bartley Mullin, Stevie Rice, TeDarryl, Andrew Etheredge, Tim Goad (stop me now!), Eddie Webster, Lucian Restivo, Trevor Worden, Cooper Sved, Ethan Williams (you didn't stop me). And I was especially affected by Matt Bloch as John. At the play's opening he baptizes each character, and the air of love he exuded was stunning to me. Dexter Ramey was the director, and what he did with this ensemble was immensely moving.
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As for the one that got away: I didn't know as much about playwright Heidi Schreck in 2018 as I do now, but TheatreLAB had the smarts to produce her 2014 "Grand Concourse" just as she was shepherding her "What the Constitution Means to Me" toward Broadway, collecting an Obie along the way. "Grand Concourse" cleaned up at the 2017 Artsies-it won Best Play and Best Actress (Dawn A. Westbrook) and shared the Best Director award (for Chelsea Burke, along with Rusty Wilson for Cadence's "John"). Schreck wrote of a nun running a soup kitchen in the Bronx; there's a custodian, a new volunteer, and a homeless guy who's a regular at the place. Burke has done so much remarkable directing work over the last several years, I'm sad enough just missing that. I didn't get to see the two younger performers in the show, Katie Ellis and Joshua Gutierrez. I didn't get to see David Clark-yep, the guy mentioned above from "Last Days." And most of all, I didn't get to see the "insightful depth and moving emotional truth" Westbrook brought to her role, according to Jerry Williams' review. Westbrook doesn't appear on Richmond stages so often that one can afford to miss an opportunity, but that's what I did, to my regret.