If you are planning on seeing The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, at Forum Theatre, prepare for anything but the ordinary. Welcome to the world of purgatory, where Judas is held on trial, and is so psychologically beaten down by consuming thoughts of guilt that being able to speak in his own defense becomes impossible. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by John Vreeke, is a provocative dark comedy in which a group of lawyers, saints, and witnesses gather in a courtroom along with Satan to try a case revolving around Judas. Throughout the course of the trial, profound issues and questions are raised in regards to the essence of spiritual free will, Judas’ betrayal to Jesus, and whether or not he should be punished or redeemed. With so much modernized Biblical investigation running wildly rampant during the trial, 3 hours almost seem to fly by.
At the very top of the show we are introduced to Judas’ mother, Henrietta Iscariot, played devotedly by Annie Houston, in which she desperately claims in a fierce monologue, “No parent should have to bury a child. When my son was born I was infused with love beyond all measure.” Alina Collins Maldonado plays an exhilarating and charming Saint Monica who wildly proclaims that if it weren’t for her son, the church would’ve been a “bastard church.” Maldonado surprises us with a sweeter, more tender side to Saint Monica as she tries to break through to Judas by holding him for 4 days claiming how God has the biggest love for the lesser creatures, “And Judas, was the leastest creature I had ever seen… I’ve got a calling ya’ll…” Judas is placed on trial into the mercy of his defense lawyer, Fabiana Aziza Cunningham, strongly played by Julie Garner. As the trial proceeds, we are introduced into a battle of the sexes and wits with the ground-kissing prosecutor, Yusef El-Fayoumy, delightfully played by Scott McCormick, all placed before the spiteful judge, cunningly acted by Brian Hemmingsen.
…anything but the ordinary.
Maboud Ebrahimzadeh is a magnetic force to be reckoned with as Judas. From the moment Judas first truly reveals himself as a young 8-year-old who has an engaging exchange with his friend in sharing a spinning top, to every divergent transition, growing more and more into the deeply disturbed sinner, Ebrahimzadeh owns each moment he is given and passionately drives it with full force. As we further advance into the trial, we are introduced to a concoction of witnesses from Mother Teresa (Nora Achrati) to Sigmund Freud (Jesse Terrill), to Pontius Pilot (Frank Britton), to the enticing Casanova, and Devil himself, played by Jim Jorgensen.
Achrati’s portrayal of Mother Teresa is breathtakingly flawless as she intently describes her painful encounter with despair, of God not wanting her. “In order to hear, one must be willing to listen,” referring to Judas’ defiance against God as an act of despair and egotism. Masterfully enough she adds hints of pristine comedic timing into the mix. Later on we see Achrati return as Mary Magdalene who wishes to clarify that she was not Jesus’ wife, but friend of Jesus. She also claims to have never been a bawd, but a highly accomplished apostle working towards the common good.
Jorgensen demonstrates moments touched with intense chemistry between Satan and Judas in the bar when Satan slyly disguises himself as a character by the name of Clementine as he is able to persuade Judas into thinking that he truly is anyone but Satan. Judas is left in a vulnerable position to open up to him and spill his troubled soul, proclaiming he is afraid of going to hell and asking if it’s okay to mention anything even “remotely controversial.” “What if some idiot had a choice to betray the messiah?…hypothetically speaking…” Satan, still disguised, answers him with, “probably better if he never would’ve been born.” Later on in the show, we see Satan fixedly exploring the faults of the two lawyers and how they would never be capable of being loved. Both Jorgensen and Garner exchange fiery moments, which lead into her ultimate meltdown.
Frank Britton commands the stage with his presence as Pontius Pilot who claims to be a Christian and Martyr. Fervently justifying his high status in life, he ends up with the motive of seducing Cunningham. Britton’s hilarious take on Pilot is a breath of fresh air.
I have to say Ebrahimzadeh’s final encounter with Jesus (Patrick Bussink) is emotionally heart-rending. His desperate cries from a deep sense of loss and feelings of being betrayed are clearly evident. We move from one heart-breaking scene to the next with Mr. Butch Honeywell, played by Frank B. Moorman devotedly delivering a stunning monologue to Judas describing his wife as his poetry, “you cashed in silver, Mr. Iscariot, but I lost gold and that’s a fact.”
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot was first performed at Forum in 2007. Forum’s Artistic Director Michael Dove says, “When we were thinking about how we wanted to mark our 10th season, we thought back to the moments that defined us. And the most common one was the production of Judas. It started our shift towards new plays and was the type of play that would become our aesthetic: highly affecting stories that ask big, big questions.” Dove and his entire production team at Forum consistently produce avant-garde works that symbolize a deeply enriched, progressive way of thinking within the DC theatre community. “We thought ‘what better way to celebrate how far we’ve come than to look at the play that started it all?’
Running Time: Approximately 3 hours with one 10-minute intermission.
Advisory: Adult themes and language.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot plays through June 14, 2014 at Round House Theatre, Silver Spring MD-8641 Colesville Road. For tickets call Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006 or you can purchase them by clicking here.
Note: Tragically after opening night, actor Frank Britton was attacked as he was hailing a cab in downtown Silver Spring, MD. Mr. Britton is a true dear friend to the entire DC theatre community. Known as the ChaiLatte Brother, Mr. Britton’s pure dedication to his craftsmanship as a DC Artist is greatly inspiring to us all. In efforts to support The Frank Britton Recovery Fund, please click here.