Saturday, June 07, 2014

"The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" plays at that the Forum-Round House in Silver Spring, MD

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot”, a play by Adly Guirgis, is playing through June 14, 2014 at the Round House Theater (also cohosting the Forum Theater) in Silver Spring, MD, in a facility adjacent to the AFI Silver Theater (link).  The production is directed by John Vreeke.  The original production of the 2005 play by the London West End had been directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman.  

The stage production is quite intimate.  The seating is stadium style, on temporary stands, but the entire depth of the stage is used, and the actors walk right up to the audience, in a few cases up the steps.  The play runs about 160 minutes, with one intermission.  It started at 8 PM; given the length, an earlier start would have been desirable.

The play sets us a trial of Judas in Purgatory (which means the play could have been titled “The Trial of Judas Iscariot”).   Purgatory looks like a real place.  The characters are inside a huge courtroom, with white vertical bar lighting behind them, and an open air courtyard in front.  Judas (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) lies on a circular pedestal.  For much of the play, he is just there, breathing, not speaking.  But he comes to life to give backstories.  But this is Judas’s “Day in Court”, to follow an old daytime TV series.  

The Judge (Brian Hemmingsen) sits on high, from his bench, as if he could deliver a manifesto himself.  Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Julie Garner) plays the defense attorney, and is rather assertive.  Sister Glenna (Kecia A. Campbell) appears as an angel, early, with wings, and seems to have the capability to travel back to Earth and communicate with people.  She really doesn’t explain how she got to become an angel, and that’s an interesting question for some of my own media projects.

Various testimonies try to explain Judas’s motivation.  It seems ambiguous.  Judas seems to have wanted to force Jesus to live up to his own prophecy.  Judas starts to interact with Satan (Jim Jorgensen), and at the end will interact with Jesus of Nazareth himself (Patrick Bussink), who wears a red cross on his tunic.  At times, the visual contrasts among these characters is striking.  Judas is depicted as bald with a hairy body, but the other two (Satan and Jesus) are smooth.  Is this just an artifact of casting, or was it intended?

Pontius Pilate testifies near the end.  The was to be played by Frank Britton.  But after opening night (May 22) Britton was robbed and assaulted at a taxi stand on Colesville Road in Silver Spring, near the 7-11, in a poorly lighted area.  Such crimes are unusual in the area and frightening.  According to media reports, at least one suspect has been apprehended.  There is Crowdfunding resource for the actor here. See the Issues blog on June 6, 2014 for more perspective.

The play ends with a sad lamentation for cello and piano.  I think the music is a Bach Prelude, but I seem to recall a passage by Shostakovich that sounds like this. 

I did think about the movie “Judas Kiss” (Movies blog, June 4, 2011).  In that film, there are four strong male leads, and two of the characters are arguably the same person, brought together by an Einteinian time travel paradox.  But among the characters it’s possible to speculate several ways in which there is a Jesus-Judas correspondence.  The most obvious occurs early when the young Daniel (Richard Harmon) “identified” an older incarnation (Charlie David) of himself in a bar.   The name of the film, ironically, applies to a short film made by Danny, in which there is a kind of family betrayal.  I thought that the portrayal of Jesus by Bussink somewhat resembled the charismatic character Shane (Timo Descamps) from that movie,
The National Geographic Channel had aired a film “The Gospel of Judas” by James Barrat. 

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