Judas Iscariot has always been a thorny issue for Christians and the church. Irenaeus, who imposed his views upon the structure of what is today the “New Testament” in his “Adversus Haereses” (Against Heresies) rails against the “Gospel of Judas” which raised Iscariot to the position of most revered disciple. It is not so outrageous a thought. Considerer Paul from 1 Corinthians 15:13-14
“But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
And if Christ be not risen, then our preaching is vain, and your faith is also vain.”
Well without Judas there would have been no crucifixion and without the crucifixion no resurrection.
In 2005 the Public Theatre first staged “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” by Stephen Adly Guirgis. It was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and featured Eric Bogosian as Satan and Sam Rockwell in the role of Judas. Since its premiere, I doubt a day has passed when somewhere in the nation a revival hasn’t been in production on at least one stage if not more. I also doubt whether there has been a better staging of the work than the one currently at the Hudson Backstage in Hollywood.
Director Josh T. Ryan brings a formable one-two punch to any undertaking he approaches. One is energy; two is innovation, and the result is usually a knock out production.
The trial of Judas conducted in the bowels of purgatory gives the play a solid narrative base. It is easy to forget in today’s constant babble of televangelists that the core of the Christian faith is not an appeal for donations, but forgiveness. Ryan places the concept of forgiveness at both ends of his staging, at the opening as a reminder and at the closing as a challenge, and both are adorned in hoodies.
In between these two points you’ll find a stellar cast. Dee Smith (who also produces) opens as Judas’ mother in a potent plea expressing how the birth of a child for every mother is like the beginning of the universe. Faith Imafidon hits the stage with the force of Hurricane Sandy as Saint Monica and carries us into the trial itself. The presiding judge is a Confederate deserter (John Falchi), the prosecutor is a flatterer (Robert Paterno) and the defense attorney is a suicide (Sarah Ruth Ryan).
The roster of witnesses called to the stand is impressive. The apostles are represented by Simon the Zealot (Brian Robert Harris), Saint Peter (John Dana Kenning), and a tough talking, hard-edged Saint Thomas (Wasim No’mani in one of the evening’s truly standout performances). John Szura as Caiaphas is solid and dignified as he addresses the question of who can bestow forgiveness, the answer of which is one of the great divides between Christianity and Judaism. Keedar Whittle roars across the stage like a division of panzers heading for the Russian front, bringing to the forefront the arrogance of Rome in the person of Pontius Pilate.
More contemporary witnesses are called to the stand in Mother Teresa (Robin Michelle McClamb) and Sigmund Freud (Alex Walters with a stunningly funny twist to the role).
Of course the star witness is the “Great Deceiver” himself, the “Prince of all Lies” Satan. Marc Erickson brings intensity to the role which is surgically sharp and staggeringly on the money, and conveys to the audience that the true power of the devil is not found in the lies he tells but those truths which we deny.
Two who are not called to the stage to testify are Jesus (Cooper Daniels) and Judas himself (Robert Walters). It is in their single scene that the core of the play is found. Simply stated, that one must participate in their own salvation.
In this time where so much forgiveness is needed, I couldn’t recommend this show more highly.