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The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Also see Sharon's review of Harps and Angels

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
Vincent Mentry and Aaron DuPree
Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Last Days of Judas Iscariot seeks to challenge its audience. It asks you to think—about forgiveness, betrayal, grief, despair, religion, goodness, revolution and responsibility, among other things. It takes place in Purgatory, and is something of a retrial of Judas, who is appealing his sentence of eternal damnation. (The play asks you to think about what eternal damnation means, too.) Actually, Judas doesn't take part in his trial at all (the case is brought on his behalf by a lawyer) but spends the bulk of the proceedings lost in a catatonic state. The others don't see him, but we do, scribbling thoughts in chalk on the walls around him.

There's intelligence in this play, and humor. We've got someone trying to get through to Judas with a string of jokes ("Got change for 30 pieces of silver?"); Satan testifying that he did not, in fact, make Judas do it; Sigmund Freud testifying that Judas had to be insane; and a Saint Peter who cares more about fishing. The bulk of the dialogue is modern—think Jesus Christ Superstar kicked up another 30 years. Although many Biblical characters appear here, they all speak like regular guys, sometimes a bit heavy on the urban slang. Indeed, some of the actors in the current production just come off as trying too hard. When the street dialogue sounds the slightest bit less than natural (Lowam Eyasu is an example of someone who nails it), the whole play starts to feel like an attempt to be clever.

The real problem with the production is the uneven cast. Nick Mills gets laughs as the toadying prosecutor. His defense counterpart, Jessica Culaciati, is solid when she's being properly lawyerly. But when (witness) Satan dangerously turns on her, her reactions aren't quite convincing. Levi Sochet does a good job playing both sides of Satan—the superficially urbane charmer and the uncontrollable evil force; and several other actors pull off good monologues (particularly Aaron DuPree as the foreman of the jury) but others (including Michelle Mania as Judas's mother) lack realism and risk throwing you out of the world of the play.

The production is an ambitious one—the press release calls it the "Downtown Los Angeles premiere," and it is housed in a performance space in the Alexandria, an old hotel now turned into low-income "micro-loft" apartments. There's something appropriate about bringing a play like this to a setting such as this one, and it perfectly fits with Urban Theatre Movement's goal of creating "accessible art and life changing experiences through innovative theatre that serves and mirrors our rich and diverse inner-city communities." The play treats its audience with respect, delving into the complexities of Judas's betrayal while keeping an accessible tone. It just needs a stronger production.

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot runs at Company of Angels at the Alexandria in downtown Los Angeles through December 12, 2010. For tickets and information, see www.urbantheatremovement.com.

Urban Theatre Movement, in association with Company of Angels, presents The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Directed by Jeremy Aluma. Set Design Fred Kinney & Staci Walters; Costume Design Cat Elrod; Lighting Design Jeff Brewer; Sound Design Adam Smith; Stage Managers Essence Brown & Melanie Torres.

Cast:
Jessica Culaciati - Fabiana Aziza Cunningham
Aaron DuPree - Butch Honeywell
Lowam Eyasu - Saint Monica & Soldier 3
Brighid Fleming - Matthias of Galilee
Tony Gatto - Judge Littlefield
Stevens Gaston - Simon the Zealot & Soldier 1
Christopher Gavilanes - Soldier 2
Amir Levi - Sigmund Freud
Angie Light - Mother Teresa
Israel Lopez - Saint Matthew
Michelle Mania - Henrietta Iscariot
Shyla Marlin - Mary Magdalene & Sister Glenna
Gilbert Martinez - Saint Peter & Uncle Pino
Vincent Mentry - Judas Iscariot
Nick Mills - Yusef El-Fayoumy
Sharif Nasr - Saint Thomas
Samantha Parks - Loretta
Charles Sanchez - Bailiff (Julius of Outer Mongolia)
Fayna Sanchez - Gloria
Levi Sochet - Satan
Adam Tsekhman - Caiaphas the Elder
Paul Tully - Pontius Pilate
Peter Weidman - Jesus of Nazareth


Photo: Ed Krieger


- Sharon Perlmutter






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