JUDAS NOIR by Leighton Alexander Williams (Obsidian Theatre/BDB Productions). At Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Carlaw). Runs to October 20. $20-$30. 647-341-7390,.
JUDAS NOIR by Leighton Alexander Williams (Obsidian Theatre/BDB Productions). At Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Carlaw). Runs to October 20. $20-$30. 647-341-7390, obsidiantheatre.com. See listing. Rating: NNNN
The inaugural presentation from Obsidian Theatres Darktown Initiative, BDB Productions Judas Noir, scripted and directed by Leighton Alexander Williams, is a freewheeling adaptation of Stephen Adly Guirgiss The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot and an unruly attempt to graft the persecution of Jews under the Romans with that of Black citizens under the current climate of institutionalized racism.
The parallels get muddy, and Judas Noir cant be accused of understatement, but its provocations are so imaginative, so propelled by ferocious showmanship, as to evade dismissal purely on account of its fraught polemic. This is a work of colossal energy, refreshing vulgarity and rare spirit.
Having been consigned to eternal damnation for his betrayal of Jesus, Judas Iscariot (Derick Agyemang) is granted a retrial in purgatory under Judge Littlefield (Franckie Francois), with the earnest Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Andrea Carter) as his defense attorney and the scheming El-Fayoumy (Ryan Rosery) as the prosecution. Numerous witnesses are summoned to speak to the complexity of Judass character and crime, among them a trans-racial Pontius Pilate (Demi Oliver), a bombastically seductive Santa Monica (Chelsea Russell), and Satan (Williams), who provides wondrously vivid testimony and steals the show.
Though potent talking points are raised, such as the taboo against discussing mental illness in the Black community, Judas Noirs premise is fundamentally flawed: who or what exactly is the equivalent of Judas in the era of Black Lives Matter? The staging is electrifying, yet the script is baggy. Theres too much canned music, particularly considering the galvanic live singing and clapping that opens the show, yet its most exhilarating sequence features the entire cast dancing with the Devil in a netherworld nightclub well worth the lineup.
Some performances are marred by forced emotion or showboating, yet Williams, his macabre flamboyance echoing Screamin Jay Hawkins, is fiercely charismatic, while Francois feints nimbly between booming authority and debilitating fear. Russell sacrifices clarity for attitude, audacity and a delightfully percussive machine-gun patois, while Agyemang embodies his character like a man possessed, movingly conveying broiling internal struggle and eventually delivering a devastating Judas kiss to an unexpected recipient.
By the end we feel weve glimpsed Judass soul without ever being certain what to make of his folly. Perhaps this lingering ambiguity is why his story endures.