The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a deeply satisfying theatrical meal
By Stephen Adly Guirgis. Directed by Stephen Drover. A Pound of Flesh Theatre production, in association with Pacific Theatre and Neworld Theatre. Presented by the Cultch and Rumble Productions’ Tremors Festival. At the Cultch’s Historic Theatre on Thursday, April 12. Continues until April 21
Director Stephen Drover’s production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a deeply satisfying theatrical meal.
For all of its salty language—Saint Monica refers to her son, Saint Augustine, as a former whore-banging “mothahfuckah”—the printed script struck me as dry. A judge in purgatory agrees to hear the case of Judas, who committed suicide after betraying Christ and is now a resident of hell. But should he be there? If God is as loving as his publicists claim, why doesn’t he forgive Judas, who, after all, simply carried out God’s plan? Figures including Mother Teresa, Sigmund Freud, and Satan are all called—or conjured—to testify. They debate notions of compassion and free will with Judas’s lawyer and the prosecutor.
This could all feel abstract, but Drover and his cast find the bleeding humanity in almost every moment. At the centre of the evening is the question of whether or not we condemn ourselves to hell by refusing love—and who can’t relate to that?
Drover has cast superbly, and his actors are having such a good time that, sitting in the audience, you get a contact high. Dawn Petten’s Mother Teresa is part wicked parody—a self-satisfied Albanian gnome who munches on a Kit Kat bar and tosses away the wrapper—and part wise woman; even as she condemns abortion, you can’t help but be swayed by the depth of her conviction. Carl Kennedy, who knocked Vancouver’s collective socks of last season in Jesus Hopped the “A” Train, flashes with charisma as the streetwise revolutionary Simon the Zealot. And Michael Kopsa is nastily seductive as the Prince of Darkness. Especially when he’s called upon to cross-examine Satan, Marcus Youssef, who plays the butt-licking prosecutor El-Fayoumy, is hilarious. And Katharine Venour shines as Cunningham, Judas’s lawyer; the straight woman of the piece, Cunningham is the most difficult role in the script, but Venour keeps the character philosophically hungry and, in one of the most moving passages, makes her bereft.
There’s terrific work all over the place from a cast that also includes Marci T. House, Kyle Jespersen, Kevin McNulty, Ron Reed, Adrienne Wong, and Beatrice Zeilinger.
I’ve only got a couple of quibbles. I found Anthony F. Ingram’s Freud, who opens the second act, flat; yes, the character is self-satisfied as written, but, in performance, simply repeating that note gets stale. And even though Bob Frazer (Judas) and Todd Thomson (Jesus) both contribute hugely openhearted performances, their Act 2 confrontation felt poorly modulated the night I saw it: too much big emotion led to insufficiently differentiated meaning. (It’s a luxury to be able make such fine distinctions.)
Drew Facey’s battered warehouse of a set is perfect for purgatory, and Itai Erdal’s lighting is subtle and moody.
This show is part of Rumble Productions’ Tremors Festival, which features work by emerging companies. It’s great to see Pound of Flesh Theatre and all of its producing partners mount a large-scale production that would be at home on any of Vancouver’s major stages.