The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
By Stephen Adly Guigis
Directed by John DiDonna
Starring Avis Marie Barnes, Babette Garber, Stephen Lima, Roger Floyd
Empty Spaces Theatre Company
Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Orlando FL
After a good parochial education and years of studying Joseph Campbell and the Classical Philosophers, the fundamental doctrines of Christianity still seem to me a convolved, self-conflicting mess. If you have never recognized the fundamental incompatibility of Omniscience (I can see everything everywhere past present and future) and Omnipotence (I can make anything happen, anywhere, anytime) you might find some solace in this wordy and theologically wobbly piece of surrealism. And you WILL find some of Orlando’s highest power talent chewing on meaty rolls as hard as the debate between Free Will and Determinism.
Henrietta Iscariot (Peg O’Keefe) just buried her son Judas in shame, mourning that no parent should have to bury their child. She refuses the four small stones left on top of his grave, thus symbolically rejecting the power of the Judaic god YHWH. We descend from her Potter’s Field to a court room in Purgatory where Judge Frank Littlefield (Barnes) presides. She’s feisty and officious, and steadily rejects a variety of writs, all intended to get various human mega-sinners out of Hell and into Heaven, or at least into a karmic work release program. Irish gypsy lawyer Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Garber) argues for the case of Judas, (Floyd) a now cationic resident of the ninth ring of hell. It takes the aid of streetwise nudge St. Monica (Trennel Mooring) to get on the divine docket, and then we enter the real center of the story – an oddly structured retrial of Judas, with various ancient and contemporary figures who all chime in the merits of the conviction. In the end, we find Jesus (Alexis Jackson) simply loves all, and while “Faith” is offhandedly referred to, it’s transubstantiated into a “Lack of Despair” as the ticket into the pearly gates.
Ok, all of this feels like religion as seen thorough the eyes of 20th century pop culture, but the performances are nearly all perfect. The gloomy, teary O’Keefe, the sassy and willful Barnes, and the dripping-with-depression Floyd all anchor the action, but the supporting cast makes this sing. Stephen Lima is the vaguely Arabic and very oily prosecutor (El-Fayoumy). He brown noses his way through the trial as he repeatedly attempts to seduce the defense lawyer Cunningham. Lawrence Benjamin was fine as Julius the Bailiff, but became truly scary when he appears as a Black Panther version of Simon the Zealot. Valensky Sylvain cut an elegant figure as the gentle giant St. Matthew, and Satan even appears in the form of Dennis Neal, the always suave and snappy dresser with a violent temper lurking under that Armani coat.
While “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” doesn’t cover every single facet of Judas’s guilt or innocence, it leads you around the block several times and leaves you with a spinning head in the bad part of town, wearing little more than your philosophical undies and one high heel. Some of the modern philosophers just seemed to elongate the story – while I love Marty Stonerock’s Palm Beach maven Gloria, her Mother Theresa segment dragged on and mostly points out that even the canonized aren’t perfect. Sigmund Freud (Pat Ward) drew some well deserved laughs but again, his modern and no longer fashionable psychoanalysis added little to understanding what prompted Judas.
If you have a strong faith, whether in the acceptance of the divine, or the conviction there ain’t no such thing, you will likely make it thorough this journey unscathed. If you’re sitting on a fence, I expect you’ll have barbed wire marks in your metaphysical behind when you walk out. You can chase these arguments around forever, or you can pick and choose and sign up for an arbitrary position and worship in the Church of Your Choice. Here’s the question the author ignores: Was Judas the creepiest little sneak to ever walk the earth, or did he take the real fall for Christianity, voluntarily entering and remaining in Hell so the rest of us could feel better on Sunday morning? There’s heresy lurking here, the kind that gets you burned at the stake. Tread carefully…
For more information on Empty Spaces Theater Company, visit http://www.emptyspacestheatre.org