Andrew Harriss and Billy Dutton in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. Photo by Paul Newland.
BOTTOM LINE: Jump on the chance to see Stephen Adly Gurgius' witty, sharply wrtten script.
I feel like I should start this review with a disclosure statement regarding my love affair with The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. It's pretty much my favorite play ever written, I've referred to it on more than one occasion as "the theatrical love of my life" and whenever someone asks for a reading recommendation, it's the first thing out of my mouth. Now with that said, I've never had a chance to see it performed, my love is strictly literary. When I saw that Wide Eyed Productions was mounting the show this month, I jumped at the opportunity to see it on stage. Admittedly, I probably had some pretty high expectations. The good news is I wasn't completely disappointed. The bad news is I also wasn't blown away.
This particular play by Stephen Adly Guirgis can be a tricky one to do well. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is set in a modern day purgatory. It is essentially a court room drama that questions whether Judas' notorious betrayal of Jesus should have been punished by eternal damnation. It requires a large cast of solid, capable actors to play what amounts to, at my count, twenty-seven characters ranging from Judas himself to Simon the Zealot and Mary Magdalene. Wide Eyed Productions puts together a cast that is largely hit or miss. On the hit side of the spectrum, this production may be worth seeing for Colin McFadden's performance alone. He plays the relatively small role of Butch Honeywell, a juror on Judas' case. He spends a vast majority of the play tucked into a corner, but when he is finally given a chance to act, he delivers a monologue about his own existence in what amounts the most sincere and engaging performance of the night. He provides one of those rare theatrical moments where you completely forget that you're in a theater watching an actor and instead feel like you're having a heartfelt conversation with a good friend. While McFadden was a standout he's far from the only exciting performance of the evening. Andrew Harriss as Judge Littlefield presides over the courtroom with a humor that is innate to the script but not always present in this particular production, and Okieriete Onaodowan's portrayal of Pontius Pilate is sad, intimidating, forceful and kind of hot, all at the same time.
This incarnation of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot manages to capitalize on many moments of sincerity. Various flashbacks into Judas' life (played by a solemn and moping Lincoln L. Hayes) including a scene from his childhood where he gifts another child his prized toy, prove endearing. On the other hand, what this production is largely, and somewhat tragically missing, is the humor that is evident a million places in the written script. Banter between the prosecuting and defense attorney in the courtroom falls flat in places that had me laughing out loud when I read the script to myself, characters such as the straight-talking St. Monica get lost in risky, but ultimately faulty, casting. Too many subtleties to even count are swallowed, occasionally for the unforgivable reason that there were one or two actors that I couldn't help but feel were still memorizing lines. Perhaps the biggest let down of the evening for me, came towards the end of the play in a scene where Jesus and Judas confront each other. Jesus insists upon his love for Judas and Judas questions why Jesus abandoned him. This moment has so much potential for emotion and explosion, and to my utter dismay, it fell completely flat.
The Wide Eyed Productions' offering is flawed. It's a rather large project for a somewhat small theater company to take upon themselves, but that being said, it was lovely to The Last Days of Judas Iscariot on its feet and the cast absolutely pulls out some worthy, thought-provoking moments.
(The Last Days of Judas Iscariot plays at the Richmond Shephard Theatre, 309 East 26th Street, through February 7, 2010. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm . Tickets are $25 Regular $20 Students at theatermania.com or 212.352.3101. For more information, visit wideeyedproductions.com.)