‘The Last Days of Judas Iscariot’
Through June 14
Round House Theatre Silver Spring
8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD
Judas Iscariot: a name synonymous with betrayal.
Judas, of course, was the disciple who sold out Christ for 30 pieces of silver. Whether he did it for the cash or because he wanted to set off a rebellion against the occupying Roman army is debatable. Either way, he’s never been a popular guy.
In Stephen Adly Guirgis’ darkly comic “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” (now at Forum Theatre), the follower-turned-traitor’s motives, character and possibilities of redemption are all put on trial. Set in a corner of purgatory called Hope, the proceedings are presided over by bigoted Judge Littlefield (Brian Hemmingsen) assisted by his callow bailiff (Thony Mena). The action pits tough and sexy Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Julie Garner), a non-believing defense attorney who’s arguing that god’s mercy mandates her client’s release from eternal damnation, against oily prosecuting attorney Yusef El-Fayoumy (Scott McCormick) whom the judge simply addresses as Mr. El Fajita. The colorful litany of witnesses — a veritable who’s who of Biblical and historical types — include Mary Magdalene (Nora Achrati), Saint Peter (Eric Porter), a naughty Mother Teresa (Achrati again), Saint Monica from the hood (Alina Collins Maldonado) and a self-satisfied Sigmund Freud (Jesse Terrill).
Throughout the play, Judas (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) lies catatonic center stage on a raised circular platform. Occasionally he rouses for flashbacks, showing him as a young and impetuous idealist on the playground and later as an embittered adult at Bathsheba’s Bar & Grill where a remorseful and very drunk Judas runs into Satan: “You wanna play the lute, sing Mary-Chapin Carpenter, that’s what heaven’s for,” warns the Gucci-clad prince of darkness. “You wanna rock? Hell’s the venue.”
At three hours, “Judas Iscariot” is long, but never dull. The script is all over the place moving from corny exchanges to raw humor to darker places. Fortunately the superb and diverse cast of local actors is more than up for it. Boldly staged by Vreeke, who’s gay, this production is a reprise of Forum’s fantastic “Judas Iscariot” from six years ago that was mounted at the now-shuttered H Street Playhouse. This time around, the venue has changed — Forum’s home at Round House Silver Spring’s large and chilly black box space (take a sweater) — but the production remains equally compelling.
Along with talented director Vreeke, many of the production’s original cast returned. Patrick Bussink makes a memorable cameo as a casual and quiet Jesus of Nazareth. Again, Jim Jorgensen plays Satan — happily hung over and deliciously evil. Frank Britton is back too as a badass, street smart Pontius Pilate who refuses to take the blame for just doing his job. (Britton was mugged and badly beaten by four men near the Silver Spring Metro Station after Monday night’s opening. He’s expected to return to the part soon.)
As with Guirgis’ other plays like “Our Lady of 121st Street,” “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” and “The Motherfucker with the Hat,” “Judas Iscariot” plumbs meaning from losers’ lives and gives a spot-on portraiture of urban street life. The humor is irreverent and the characters are delightfully foulmouthed. Yet, the work’s deeper meaning is never lost. There are quiet, moving moments too: the show opens with Judas’ sorrowful mother Henrietta (Annie Houston) recounting how she buried her son alone. Later Butch Honeywell (Frank B. Moorman), a Joe Six-pack with a bent for poetry, mourns not having been the husband and father he might have been. Like Judas Iscariot, his sadness comes from not being able to change what’s already been done.