Review: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Pound of Flesh Theatre

Within literature and theatre, the activity of analyzing, dissecting, and reinterpreting a work’s characters is beyond commonplace. Whether academically studying a character in an English Lit course or viewing a familiar story through a secondary character’s eyes (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, Wind Done Gone, Wicked, The Penelopiad, et al) – we have a deep compulsion to increase our understanding of these figures.
Such rigorous analysis is rarely applied to figures from the religious canon however, and this makes playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot a rare and fascinating piece. Mounted as a part of Rumble Productions 2012 TREMORS Festival, the complex, witty, and heartfelt play is an incredible exploration of Western civilization’s most damned figure.

Bob Frazer and Todd Thomson in the Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Bob Frazer as Judas & Todd Thomson as Jesus

Guirgis starts with the question: ‘If God is all-forgiving, why is Judas Iscariot condemned to eternity in hell?' and weaves a rich, nuanced dialogue that explores questions of faith, betrayal, love, and philosophy. It is a work that incites furious thought, even as it wrenches emotion.

The setting for this exploration is a courtroom in Purgatory, presided over by the brusque, dismissive Judge Littlefield (played by the powerful Kevin McNulty). A conviction-filled, spitfire of a lawyer named Cunningham (Katharine Venour) has, with the assistance of a foul-mouthed, street-wise Saint Monica (Marci T. House), obtained a writ to give Judas Iscariot (a pitiable and painfully human Bob Frazer) a trial. Opposing Cunningham's defense, is grandiose sycophant and prosecutor El-Fayoumy (the brilliantly-comic Marcus Youssef).
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From this set-up, the narrative plays out over two almost distinct threads: the first sees Cunningham and El-Fayoumy cross-examine characters including Judas’ mother, Pontius Pilate, Mother Theresa, Sigmund Freud, and Satan, among others. These scenes are rife with humour and bursting with significant questions and profound insight.

The second thread looks at Judas himself, following imagined incidents from his past and hearing testimonial from those closest to him. These form the emotional core of the work, painting a compelling and conflicted portrait of the man.

Without spoiling the ending, Guirgis avoids the expected climax of the jury announcing the verdict and instead drives the conclusion towards a more meditative, thought-provoking place. The work does not offer the clear cut resolution that many theatre-goers may crave, but instead offers a beautiful, enigmatic statement that will be returned to and dwelled upon for days (if not weeks and months).

As readers may notice from the actors included above, the cast is a veritable powerhouse that brings together some of Vancouver’s finest talents. It is a massive cast, at 14 individuals, that also includes Anthony F. Ingram, Kyle Jespersen, Carl Kennedy, Michael Kopsa, Dawn Pettten, Ron Reed, Todd Thomson, Adrienne Wong, and Beatrice Zeilinger. These individuals are some of the best in our city, and watching them work with such intelligent, well-written material is a thrill.

The combined ensemble’s work is guided by Director Stephen Drover, a fast-rising talent  who has created a tight-paced, intimate, and moving vision of the complex script.

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a rare, lasting experience that stimulates both heart and mind, and raises questions that will continue to haunt.

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