The Forum Theatre, housed at the Round House Silver Spring, has produced Stephen Adley Guirgis’ “The Last Days of Judas Iscariat” three separate times, first in 2006. I have seen it, and marveled in it, each time. The play is captivating and the performances (directed by John Vreeke, and with most of the same cast members for each run) are have been as good as it gets. I highly recommend this show to all (conflict alert: daughter Hannah is dramaturg – but this does not change my review).
The scene is a courtroom in Purgatory. The trial is that of Judas Iscariat for the betrayal and murder of Jesus of Nazareth. The facts are clear: For 30 pieces of silver, Judas, who had been Jesus’ favorite disciple, betrays him and turns him in, and he is crucified by the Romans, who then control Jerusalem and Judea. The trial is a lavish affair – there is an uncontrollable attorney for the prosecution (Yusef El-Fayoumy, played by Scott McCormick) and a frustrated attorney for the defense (Fabiana Aziza Cunningham, played by Julie Garner) who spar with each other unmercifully. There is a pontificating judge (Judge Littlefield, played by Brian Hemmingsen) and an eager to please bailiff (played by Thony Mena). And there is a large array of witnesses – including Judas’ mother Henrietta (Judas was a good boy), Mary Magdalene, Sigmund Freud, Saint Thomas, Pontius Pilate, Mother Teresa, Simon the Zealot, and Caiaphas the Elder. Oh, yes, and Satan, who doesn’t live in Purgatory obviously, and rather than being called to the stand, must be “conjured up” for his two appearances.
Jesus appears, but doesn’t testify. And Judas himself is present throughout the proceedings, but (except for a couple of brief flashback scenes) is catatonic.
At the end of the show, the jury reaches a verdict. Is Judas guilty or not? (No spoiler here.)
This is a clever show, a witty show, a show that gives he actor an opportunity to play over the top, without going over the top. But it isn’t a serious theological show. That is, it neither tries to define Christianity in relationship to the betrayal of Jesus (was it a dastardly deed? was it done for money? was it all part of God’s plan?)
At the talk back after the show, one of the actors I thought pegged it. She said that, you know, what happens at the trial, who testifies to what, who gets mad at whom, what the jury determines as to Judas’ guilt, is not important. It is just so much talking into the air. The truth of the matter is that catatonic Judas is so upset at what he has done and what it resulted in, that he cannot forgive himself, he cannot get beyond it, he cannot move on to the next step. That is his human, psychological problem – and it won’t be resolved by a finding of guilt or innocence.
So what after all is the play if the trial which is all there is, is really of no matter? It is great fun. And what more can you ask?
The show is at Forum until June 14. We saw it on Thursday, the 5th – it was a very good sized crowd. But I am sure there is room for you.