Directed by Julia Albain
Produced by Judas Redux
At Stage 773, Chicago
Projection problems, slurred speech patterns and slow pace doom The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
The last times I saw Stephan Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (at the Gift Theatre) I enjoyed the play but Iscariot is a tricky beast to conquer. Under the labored pace by director Julia Albain with sound problems and an uneven performances, this Iscariot drones on for a tedious 2 hours, 40 minutes.
Iscariot is a passion play wherein Guirgis has done his research as he tackles Catholic religious doctrine about the conflict between divine mercy and the personal choices due to human free will. Guirgis wonders why Judas Iscariot was condemned to hell for eternity when other apostles were give forgiveness by Jesus? Judas is on trial to determine if he is eligible for redemption.
The scene is a court room in a corner of Purgatory called Hope that finds defense attorney Fabiana Cunningham (Alex Odell) speaking for Judas while El-Fayoumy (Daniel Strauss) speaks to uphold eternal hell for Judas. The Judge (Dylan Saunders) committed suicide in 1864 and runs the court according to his whims. Judas Iscariot (Reed Campbell) sits almost comatose speaking only in flashback scenes from his past. Guirgis’ script contains a wild mixture of hip-hop street talk and foul-mouthed speech together with a most poetic dialogue filled with humor and whimsy. Too bad this cast failed to exude Guirgis’ wit.
This dull drama contains religious inquiry and bland characterizations of New Testament characters involved in Judas’ and Jesus’ lives. Guirgis’ tackles much Catholic views of the life and death of Jesus through folks like Saint Monica (Lauren Lopez) played as a Mexican street walker or Saint Peter (Joesph Walker) as a crude fisherman. Pilate gives heated testimony defending Roman policy against the Jews. Mary Magdalene (Shashona Brooks) claims she was Jesus’ best friend while Satan (Joey Richter) twice testifies against Judas. Satan’s wit and fervor opens Judas’ damnation in a new light or that seems to be the intent here.
Guirgis’ vernacular could seem anti-religious to some but he smartly covers the conflicts between forgiveness, mercy and eternal damnation. The role of remorse plays heavily here. How our free will and God’s love collide in Judas’ case makes for high drama. It is amazing how complicated religious dogma can be so darn hard to stage.
But several production flaws prevented us from ever getting into the flow of the production, First, the use of underscoring music was problematic. With actors speaking so lowly and racing through their words as of they were simply trying to get Guirguis’ dialogue out without understanding what they were saying, we fail to engage with the show. I simply could hardly hear Britney Coleman as the Angel nor Jessicia Maynard in her early monologue. It sure hurts a wordy play when we have trouble hearing and understanding the actors. Lack of volume and speech patterns that found actors racing through their lines hurt the show.
Add the over the top performances by some including Daniel Strauss as Yusef El-Fayoumy with the poor Latino accents by some and Iscariot wears thin quickly. Once we start to feel the lack of pace with an assortment of characters that we can’t understand and we never get into the work. This production played out like a series of incoherent scenes that finally ended only after a long monologue by one of the jurors from Iscariot’s trial.
This show is an example of how a tricky, long, and cumbersome play can easily turn off an audience if it is handled poorly. When I saw The Gift Theatre’s Iscariot, I loved the play but when I witnessed the Judas Redux’s production, Guirguis’ script came off as tedious and over written. Both productions used the same words; the difference is stage craft. One had it the other didn’t. I’d skip this one.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: August25, 2013
For more info checkout The Last Days of Judas Iscariot page at theatreinchicago.com
At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL, call 773-327-5252, tickets $25, Tuesday thur Sundays at 7:30 pm, matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through September 8, 2013