First produced at The Public Theater under the guidance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Last Days of Judas Escariot has heavy roots. Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play is a mash up of Jesus Christ Superstar (sans musical numbers)
with The Devil and Daniel Webster. A rag tag cast of sixteen in thrift store wardrobe assembles to create an imagined trial of notorious Judas Escariot (Robert Walters), the turncoat apostle who has been given a second chance. Defense attorney, Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (passionate blonde Sarah Ruth Ryan) calls witnesses on Judas’s behalf while Robert Paterno as the prosecutor rants, sometimes unintelligibly, in questioning witnesses. Director Josh T. Ryan may have had a handle on his actors in rehearsal, but it’s a mixed bag in performance.
The familiar story (to Christians, anyway) of Judas selling out the messiah for thirty pieces of silver is standard Sunday School text. However, the story of Judas going back to Caiaphas, the leader of the Jews, in league with the Romans, to recant his betrayal and return the bounty was less familiar to me. Guirgis brings to light the notion that if Judas was truly sorry for his betrayal (he did hang himself, after all), that his condemnation to the depths of the Inferno may be undeserved. In the first scene, impassioned Dee Smith as Mrs. Escariot (Judas had a mom!) presents the story of burying her son, bringing the miscreant more into human terms.
Overamped John Falchi as Judge Frank Littlefield shouts a lot over the proceedings. In life, evidently, Littlefield was a forty year old Confederate general who hanged himself at the end of the Civil War. Just a sore loser.
Overlong and in some cases over acted or under acted, the history explored is extensive. The religious and philosophical questions that are part and parcel of what really happened are examined at length, culminating in the ultimate scene with Jesus (charismatic Cooper Daniels) who has mostly been lurking around the stage in a Trayvon Martin hoodie, being rejected by Judas even as Jesus offers his love.
Annie Terrazzo’s spectacular backdrop of collage panels seem to have little to do with the story, but add a certain contemporary feeling to the proceedings that are filled with present day language that is sometimes difficult to take.
The Last Days of Judas Escariot
by Stephen Adly Guirgis
by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Hudson and Santa Monica Boulevard
Hollywood Theatre District
July 19 to August 24, 2013
Tickets and information
323 960 7738 / www.plays411.com/judas
$30 / $20 Students and Seniors