In The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Springs Ensemble Theatre puts the infamous disciple on trial for betraying Jesus, arguably the most evil act of all time. This contemporary drama arrives while Christians celebrate the Easter season, and the show couldn't be more timely.
Stephen Adly Guirgis' script is divided into two distinct parts.
The first is Judas' backstory, told by his mother (Armour Ratcliffe), Saint Monica (a sassy and spirited Desirée Myers), and a young Judas himself. Presented in irreverent and frequently vulgar terms, we get a sense of Judas the man.
The second part is the trial, focused like a laser beam on how Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 silver coins.
The two parts could hardly be more different: The first is profane but smartly funny, the second is profound and challenging.
Many Christians may be offended by parts of Judas. Guirgis' language and structure are deliberate, and patience is rewarded. The irreverence of the first act can be forgiven for the message in the second. If you tolerate the offensive parts, your reward is a profound theatrical experience.
Director Max Ferguson has taken on a significant challenge with Judas; simply orchestrating the 18 actors on and off the small stage, on cue, is a major task. It all comes off like clockwork. Ferguson has a clear vision of Judas and, more importantly, a clear vision of why a man would betray a savior.
Jonathan Margheim plays Judas as a broken man. When he's not catatonic, he's a brooding, silent victim of crushing guilt. Margheim's hypnotic performance is defined by his empty stare and expressionless face. Literally no words express the depth of his despair. Emory John Collinson as Jesus is as comforting as one would expect and infused with a peaceful wisdom.
The heavy lifting in Judas is handled by Prosecutor El-Fayoumy (Greg Reilly) and Defense Counsel Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Jenny Maloney). Reilly and Cunningham go after each other, making spirited acquit and convict arguments to Judge Littlefield (Jim Valone).
The lawyers benefit from a dream team of witnesses who tell their stories about Judas: Jesus, Mother Teresa (Alayna Rose Alonge), Saint Matthew (Micah Speirs), Mary Magdalene (Crystal Carter), Pontius Pilate (Taylor Geiman) and Satan (played, diabolically, by Warren Epstein). They are "witnesses" in both the legal and the Biblical sense.
Judas requires a three-hour commitment from the audience, but it zips by quickly. That's because the script, the performances, the costumes and every other aspect of the production are uniquely compelling.
SET's production is stellar, and the tale of treachery is delivered with an emotional wrecking ball.
The final scene in Judas is one of the best you will ever see on a stage. Guirgis' message is delivered with actions rather than words. It's a stunning moment that challenges the audience to answer the question "can you forgive Judas for betraying Jesus?"
How you answer that question may change your life for the better. And just as in Judas, it will be your actions, not your words, that matter.