‘The Last Days of Judas Iscariot’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by September 21, 2013

‘The Last Days of Judas Iscariot’ is back for an encore season. This 2005 comedy / drama penned by admired New York playwright, Stephen Adly Guirgis, was first presented by the Upstart Theatre Company team last year to sell-out audiences.

Guirgis was a Catholic that lost his faith, and this text is possibly him mockingly purging his soul.

This adult, contemporary play, packed with mystery and spirituality, returns to the Packenham Street Art Space, 22 Pakenham Street, Fremantle; with the three-hour performances (including one break of 15 minutes) starting at 7.30 each evening, the season runs until Saturday 28th September.

The set is a 20 by 6 metre courtroom. At one end is the judge’s bench, there is a small circular plinth in the centre that acts as the witness stand. At the other end is the dock, a pile of wooden crates! Along each side of the court is the public gallery seating for the audience.

A heartbroken woman, dressed in black mourning staggers in, she is Henrietta Iscariot (Sally Bruce), the mother of Judas who has just hung himself. She struggles to tell any passer-by how no mother should have to bury her son.

In a series of flashbacks that take the court from the crucifixion to last week, we watch as the real story and circumstances of Judas’s death unfold. As she weeps, Judas (Bryn Coldrick) is led into the dock, where, in a silent semi-catatonic state, he sits for almost the whole trial.

Silence falls over this kangaroo court as the highly prejudiced Judge Littlefield (Martyn Churcher), who now lives in purgatory, enters with his bailiff (Daley King). The smarmy spiv Counsel for the Prosecution, Youssef El Fayoumy (Garreth Bradshaw) introduces himself as does the professionally dressed, fervent Counsel for the Defence, Fabiana Cunningham (Desiree Crossing).

Throughout the surreal trial of ‘God and the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth versus Judas Iscariot’ various witnesses are called by each side. They include people who were there at the time, along with character referees from history. After the dignity of Gloria (Dale Rasmussen) came the foul-mouthed, lewd punk, Saint Monica (Maya Liwszyc) who has been hired by the prosecution to ‘get the dirty’ on Judas and his friends.

Throughout the trial, the Defence calls such notable and highly respected people as Mother Teresa (Maya Liwszyc), scientist Sigmund Freud (Kingsley Judd), Mary Magdalene (Sally Bruce), a camp Doubting Thomas (Zane Alexander) and the senior Rabi, Caiaphas the Elder (Martyn Churcher); the Prosecution then came up with fascinating facts about these people as to why their testimony should be discredited. Then follows the Prosecution’s witnesses including rogues such as Satan (Maitland Schnaars), a muscle-bound gang leader, Simon the Zealot (Daley King) and charismatic cockney Godfather, Pontius Pilot (Zane Alexander; who in turn are proved to be saints.

Will Jesus (Rob Jackson) come to an amicable reconciliation? What made remorseful Butch Honeywell (Kingsley Judd), the head of the jury, vote the way he did?

 

In the 1960s courtroom dramas like ‘Perry Mason’ and ‘Ironsides’ were all the craze, but nothing came anywhere near this blatant wrangle. If you think that a religious court case sounds boring or of little interest, fasten down the hatches and prepare for a most informative but rough ride.

The genre and style was on similar lines to ‘Lysistrata’, a bawdy but serious tale. A little long winded in places, the script could be cut down on some characters (e.g. Caiaphas, despite the brilliant acting) by 20%. However, superb and flawless performances from the WHOLE dedicated cast. There were particularly special and powerful performances by Bryn Coldrick who soared as Judas; and the two attorneys, Garreth Bradshaw and Desiree Crossing – as she faced Satan. Zane Alexander received a spontaneous applause for his two very different portrayals – Pontius Pilot and Thomas.

At times the questioning by the Prosecution was uproariously funny, quickly followed by a disciplined, provoking inquisition by the Defence. The script had many light periods throughout this very long play, but the script demanded full attention to appreciate the devious but logical arguments being put forward – and the silly jokes.

This is a mammoth production, technically excellent, great lighting – sorry no name to credit. The whole play has obviously been well considered and handled by director Patrick Downes. Some may consider this treatment blasphemous, other may think it tasteless, but one wonders ‘is it really accurate?’

This is a must see, but don’t go after a tiring day, if you give this play’s lengthy script and its fully charged cast the complete and constant attention they deserve, time will fly and you will be amply rewarded.