You know what Perry Mason, Matlock and James Spader from “Boston Legal” have in common? None of them ever tried a case in purgatory where they had to face Satan, Mother Teresa and Jesus all in one day. “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” the last play of the spring semester, performed by the FC Theatre Department, gives Judas his day in court. Opening this Wednesday, May 7, at the Bronwyn Dodson Theatre, it takes an unflinching look at whether he would get sent to Hell for ratting Christ out to the Romans or be acquitted by God. Along the way, there is laughter, tears and a deep look at who we really are.
It still lives up to its original praise, e.g., “funny, profound and wildly entertaining” (The Hollywood Reporter). There is nothing dry or preachy about this cliff-dive into history.
It alternately simmers and boils as a spicy gumbo, a who’s who of historical and religious figures taking the witness stand to lend light to Christianity’s crime of the century. The court hears from Judas’ mother, Henrietta Iscariot (Cathy O’Donnell), St. Peter (Edmond Truong), Mother Teresa (Alexandria Lopez), Pontius Pilate (Kevin Casey), Sigmund Freud (Felipe Leon) and “the Son of Man,” Jesus Christ (Jose Orozco).
The guest list also includes his Royal Badness, the Prince of Darkness (Chris Hayhurst). Satan’s oily charm and sinister intellect are played with intimidating panache à la Al Pacino in the movie “Devil’s Advocate.”
Presiding over this madcap trial is Judge Frank Littlefield, a cantankerous Civil War veteran who hanged himself. A rambunctious loose cannon played with hellacious Southern bluster by Michael Ornelas, he IS the law here, but nonetheless keeps the trial focused and well-paced.
Director Chuck Ketter chose this play because it “speaks to everyone, not just the pious.” He said, “It’s actually not a religious story—it’s a story about redemption; and while it may have a religious backdrop, it’s about the human soul in transition.”
Purgatory’s courtroom is a New York subway station. Ketter said, “[Playwright Stephen Adly] Guirgis is writing about urban subway people [he sees], diffusing them into these saintly characters,” e.g., Christ is a janitor, Henrietta Iscariot a homeless woman, Pontius Pilate a soldier, and so on.
Also contemporary is the very urban, hip hop speech pattern of the cast. Early in the trial, when St. Monica of Hippos, nun and mother of St. Augustine (Jazlyn Lewis), offers her defense of Judas she takes over the court room and is a blast furnace of profanity.
“I channeled my inner-ghetto,” said Lewis, who attacks her role with such explosive gusto she becomes a scene-stealer in a scene where she is the only character.
This court’s jester is evil Arabic prosecuting attorney, Yusef El-Fayoumy, in a riotous turn by Matt Dallal, who maximizes every comic opportunity, making every demented appearance worth savoring. Dallal recently spent time in New York, where he got to learn firsthand about the subway culture and observe people like his character in person. Perverted, sleazy and zany as Chico Marx, he stops at nothing to guarantee a guilty verdict.
He said, “I love playing an ass-kissing, horny Arabic guy. He’s wacky, but his arguments are complex and moving. He doesn’t just tell gags for comic effect.”
The only person who can intimidate the relentless El-Fayoumy is Satan himself, who cavalierly dismantles everyone from the inside out, shredding their brains and souls like carne asada.
He gets everyone in touch with their inner hypocrite, condemning flawed people for feeling righteous enough to condemn other flawed people.
Ultimately, everyone ends up in conflict with themselves, and that is the true grist of this dramady’s mill. It’s a war that we all fight every day, and one that influences the outcome of our lives. Its theme song is John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth.” And it’s worth being a fly on this subway’s wall to discover what that is.