Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
And there's plenty of time for everyone to put an indelible stamp on it: the tragi-comedy runs two hours and fifty minutes. The Last Days... is a little like Oliver Stone's JFK in its mad conspiratorial rabbit holes, and angry theories, and tragic explanations. The matter at hand is the fate of the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ, sending him to be crucified. But it's also very funny in a modern way, and jarringly "present" in our daily world, though the legal inquest takes place not far from Purgatory, in a courtroom more or less beyond time and space. At first it seems like the show couldn't possibly work at all: there is deep, sharp pain from nearly 2000 years ago, packed tooth-by-jowl with scenes of bombastic humor.
But before you know it, we're in a spot where outrageous comedy is the only way to deal with the damnable side of man. Carl Overly, Jr. is the prosecutor, an Egyptian Christian, and the resounding heart of laughter in the play. It's a perfect part for him. Courtney Bailey Parker is Cunningham, the clever defense attorney for Mr. Iscariot, in this play from 2005: tactically adroit and fast on her feet, in spite of the cards being stacked against her. In terms of Ms. Parker's line burden, and the journey her character takes, this modern lady-lawyer goes through the wringer as the main character in the play.
The list of testifying suspects and experts is made up entirely of surprise witnesses, including Lucifer (Eric Dean White, whimsically wicked), Sigmund Freud (delightful Felice Skye), and Mother Teresa (Rachel Tibbetts, evoking memories of Emily Litella). But what emerges is a debate over what Jesus (or anyone else) could have done to avoid implicating Judas in his own sacrifice, which is regarded here as a mere execution, devoid of messianic import. So, don't go expecting to have your own religious views validated (and Saint Monica, played by the hilarious Rae Davis, curses like a sailor). Mostly on the margins of the play, Chris Ware does very well as a quietly anguished Judas, and Jesse Munoz plays Jesus, beautifully tormented by his disciple's refusal to accept forgiveness.
There are dozens of highly elaborate excuses for why one person or another stood by and did nothing to stop the crucifixion (or stop Judas from betraying Christ) as each witness comes under cross-examination, after hilarious interrogations by Mr. Overly, Jr.. However, at least three times I found myself left behind in the theological dust by the complexity of their exculpatory statements. Carmen Garcia, as Pontius Pilate, has the most powerful of these testimonies, outlining the dire conditions for Israelis under Roman occupation. Ariella Rovinsky plays Caiaphas, assuming calm spiritual authority over whether or not the Sanhedrin leadership avoided a "bloodbath" in climbing their own fateful decision tree.
And there's a lovely, poetic twist ending, involving one of the jurors in the trial, after a great modern monologue by Graham Emmons. But each member of the cast rises to perfect performance, at the exact right momentas if in the fulfillment of prophesy itself.
Judas of Iscariot, through October 28, 2018, at the black box theater on the campus of Fontbonne University (enter from Big Bend Blvd.), Clayton MO. Important note: there are no Friday performances of this show. For more information visit www.mustardseedtheatre.com