Silver Spring Stage The Last Days of Judas IscariotBy Bob Ashby • Nov 3rd, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Silver Spring Stage
Woodmoor Shopping Center, Silver Spring, MD
Through November 19th
3:00 with one intermission
$20/$18 Seniors and Students
Reviewed October 29th, 2011
Because of other commitments, last Saturday was my only opportunity to see The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Silver Spring Stage. That’s a pity, because this is a show worth seeing more than once. Not only does the production boast a large number of high-quality performances, but Stephen Aldy Giurgis’ script is a wonder: wild, profane humor; serious, thoughtful consideration of some of the deepest issues of faith and philosophy; fair treatment of and understanding for all its characters, even the less attractive of whom get to make a case for themselves; tender and angry and regretful emotions; and a series of beautifully written monologues best described as spoken arias.
The setting is a disorderly trial court in an Americanized Purgatory, presided over by a readily annoyed judge, a former Confederate officer (Norm Gleichman). Normal rules of evidence and courtroom decorum are bent, almost beyond recognition at times, but the 5th Amendment and the right to seek a writ of habeas corpus appear to apply. The issue in the case is whether some relief should be granted to Judas, who has been a catatonic recluse in hell ever since his death.
To this case, Judas’ feisty but emotionally wounded defense attorney (Mattie Cohan) and her fast-talking, smarmy opponent (Jonathan Dyer), who flatters and flirts with everyone, bring a bevy of witnesses who, in an earlier era, Steve Allen might have invited to dinner on his “Meeting of Minds” show. Mother Theresa (Kecia Campbell) – who flirts back with the prosecutor – an intellectually smug Sigmund Freud (Cory Atwood), Simon the Zealot (Karen Lawrence, who also does a nice turn as a very urban Santa Monica), Caiaphas the high priest (Gleichman again, in an even more impressive characterization), a very southern political boss of a Pontius Pilate (Brendan Murray), and, not least, Satan herself (Cara Duckworth). Duckworth portrays a devil who wears Gucci, and she is very persuasive in her cool as well as in her demanding power. If one is going to cast a woman in the role, by the way, it would make sense for the other characters to refer to her as “Ms.,” rather than “Mr.” Satan.
And then there is Judas (Scott Courlander), locked in his world of despair, unaware of his surroundings, mostly sitting slumped over by Silver Spring Stage’s notorious downstage center pillar (best use I’ve ever seen of that odd feature of the space). No one – even the tenaciously loving Jesus of the play’s final scene (Erica Smith, who through most of the play has been the silent clerk of the court) – can lift him out of his isolation.
After the trial is over, there is a long coda, consisting mostly of an extended monologue by a minor character (also played by Murray) who speaks to the unresponsive Judas of his sadness and regret over having allowed women and alcohol to ruin his marriage and his life. This is a weakness in the script’s structure. At this juncture, a contemporary insertion to aid the audience’s identification with Judas’ sense of regret is unnecessary. The play already has the ability to make everyone see their wounds and sins, and hopefully, that forgiveness and love are available to heal even the profoundest of hurts. That said, Murray’s touching rendition of the monologue makes the detour worth watching.
The most annoying feature of the production had nothing to do with the action on stage. The program failed to identify which actors played which roles, leaving the audience to guess at their identity, particularly vexing in a show in which many actors play multiple roles. Many people (me included) were left to stare at the headshot board during intermission, trying to figure out who was whom.
The set for the play is simple, consisting of a musty courtroom with brown cloths over tables, festooned with piles of document folders. The lighting design is more complex, with specials often serially tracking (and sometimes not quite catching up to)
actors as they walk around the stage. Costumes are competently executed and appropriately reflect the characters. More than any show I’ve seen this year, however, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot would provoke thought and reflection, amuse, and move one’s feelings in an empty room with a couple bare light bulbs and the actors in street clothes. The script and performances are that good.
Blessed with a stellar cast and a brilliant playwright, I am hesitant to add my own voice too loudly to the mix. Let me simply share some thoughts that came up in conversation during rehearsals:
The Language of the Play
Fr. James Martin, the theological adviser to the original production, wrote: I was asked one question consistently: “Does the bad language bother you?” I would say, first, that the Gospel story was being “inculturated” for a new audience. Second, the language was a reminder that the saints were real people, and third, if Jesus hung around fishermen and prostitutes, he probably heard the same kind of language we heard on the stage. I also liked the fact that, on the most basic level, the language was shocking; as Jesus knew from his dramatic parables, shock was one way of getting people’s attention.
The Devil Takes on Many Forms
The Devil having many names and faces is an old idea, existing in several cultures. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. -2 Corinthians 11:14
God May Be Anywhere
As related figuratively in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats: Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Verily I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers, you did for me.” – Matthew 25: 37-40
And more allegorically, in the story of the Road to Emmaus: In the story, Jesus, after his Resurrection, appears to two of his disciples, who are traveling to a town called Emmaus. They are disconsolate at the death of their leader and friend. The risen Jesus comes to join them along the road, but at first they don’t recognize him, even when he interprets Scripture for them… They invite him to stay the night at their home. And as they sit down to the evening meal and he breaks the bread and blesses it, their eyes are opened, as the Scripture says, and they recognize who it is who sits before them.
My thanks to the Stage for entrusting me with such a fascinating and challenging project. Many thanks also to the design team and my producer, and to all the Jesuits who had a hand in my education.
1 Fr. James Martin, SJ, A Jesuit Off-Broadway: Behind the Scenes with Faith, Doubt, Forgiveness, and More (Chicago: Loyola, 2007) 186.
2 Ibid, 229.
- Cory Atwood
- Kecia Campbell
- Mattie Cohan
- Scott Courlander
- Cara Duckworth
- Jonathan Dyer
- Karen Elle
- Norm Gleichman
- Erika Imhoof
- Karen Lawrence
- Natalie McManus
- Brendan Murray
- Erica Smith
- Wies Valen
- Producer: Seth Ghitelman
- Director: Guillaume Tourniaire
- Stage Manager: Kristen Skolnik
- Assistant Stage Manager: Matilda Parker
- Set Designer: Linda Bartash
- Master Carpenter: Linda Bartash
- Scenic Painting: Linda Bartash
- Construction & Painting Assistants: Seth Ghitelman,
- Mary Seng, Cecil Thompson, Robert Thompson
- Properties & Set Dressing: Richard Ley
- Lighting Designer: Jim Robertson
- Sound Designer: Nick Sampson
- Light Board Operator: Ken Greenwall, Bill Strein
- Sound Operator: Patrique Beard, Brenda Ryan
- Costume Designer: Linda Swann
- Make-up & Hair Design: the cast
- Playbill Cover Design: Craig Allen Mummey
- Subscription Brochure: Craig Allen Mummey
- Artistic Liaison: Amy Sullivan
- Hospitality: Kathie Mack
- Opening Night Reception: Seth Ghitelman, Richard Ley
Disclaimer: Silver Spring Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7311.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.