THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT by Stephen Adly Guirgis (Birdland Theatre). At the Fermenting Cellar. April 7-15. See listing. Rating: NNNNN
Ambitious works like The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot don’t come along too often. Stephen Adly Guirgis’s sprawling script is full of big ideas and written in a highly charged, hyper-caffeinated style that’s equal parts genius and madness.
An unconscious Judas (Shaun Smyth), dressed to look like a tortured prisoner from Abu Ghraib, is stuck in purgatory, where his attorney, Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Janet Porter), is pleading his case before Judge Littlefield (Ted Dykstra) to get him into heaven.
Various witnesses – everyone from Mother Teresa (Aviva Armour-Ostroff) and Sigmund Freud (Richard Greenblatt) to Satan himself (Diego Matamoros) – are called to testify, to be questioned by Cunningham and her opposite number, the cloying prosecutor El-Fayoumy (Morris Panych).
Guirgis squeezes every ounce of blood, drama and intellectual curiosity from his high-concept premise. There’s fascinating exegesis here, but also plenty of broad humour and moments of pain and grief that capture the human condition. Underlying it all, of course, is a timely post- 9/11 comment on justice, hypocrisy and who takes the blame for the world’s ills.
As he did in the production’s earlier incarnation in fall 2005, director David Ferry sets the work in the hugely atmospheric Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District. The high-ceilinged, concrete space – full of mysterious crevasses – breathes history.
It’s hard to single out anyone in the impressive cast. But Louise Pitre adds warmth and world-class pipes in a bookending song to the role of Judas’s mother, and Porter suggests a complicated inner life as the conflicted attorney.
Guirgis has provided some marvellous writing for two of the world’s misunderstood bad guys, Satan and Pontius Pilate. Matamoros’s Satan is a slick, proud, street-smart guy who sees through your most deeply buried secrets, while Philip Akin’s Pontius Pilate, outfitted in full military garb and pleading the Fifth, is a GOP type who wants to cover up the past and perfect his golf game.
One of the year’s best.