Not your pontiff's Easter story: Luciana Fuller as Mary Magdalene and LaJoi Whitten as Santa Monica in 'The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.'
Pisces Moon straddles heaven and hell in 'The Last Days of Judas Iscariot'
By Joyce D. Mann
Susan Myer Silton has always been a gutsy director and producer, taking her theater group, Pisces Moon, into areas where others fear to tread. She looks for avant-garde projects that deal with issues relevant to our society and is often the first in Santa Cruz to present thought-provoking plays, such as her 2002 production of The Laramie Project. In keeping with this tradition, Silton brings us Stephen Adly Guirgis' complex, witty, and challenging play, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.
Director Silton has assembled an ethnically diverse company. However, as she points out, the ethnicity, age and even the sex of the actors is irrelevant in the telling of this powerful story.
The play is set in the nebulous region known as Purgatory--the staging place between heaven and hell. The scene is the present-day courthouse of Judge Littlefield (Chad Davies). The plaintiff is a catatonic Judas Iscariot (Jared Grayson), represented by his fiery attorney Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Norma B. Calderon). Opposing her is the glib and stylish Yusef El-Fayoumey (Yahel Townsend). Needless to say, all the protagonists are dead and serving out their time for sins or crimes committed in their lifetime. While the message is serious, the concept and language of this play are extremely humorous.
The Last Days opens with a moving monologue by Henrietta Iscariot (LaJoi Whitten), who is grieving for her son. The fast-paced court action then proceeds, as witnesses for and against the plaintiff take the stand.
The characters are hip, savvy and streetwise, and much of the dialogue owes its vitality (and raciness) to street argot. Thirteen actors take on 25 roles, ranging from Pontius Pilate (Daniel David Doane) and Caiaphas (Karen Schamberg) to Mother Teresa (Michelle Shulman) and Sigmund Freud (Roger McCune).
Whitten, who plays multiple roles, is a showstopper as the fast-talking, ass-kicking Santa Monica, who claims Santa Monica Boulevard as her own and bullies the judge into taking Judas' case. There are nice cameos of the apostles Matthew (Chad Davies), Simon the Zealot (Doane), Peter (Patrick Drake), and Doubting Thomas (Drake). The men are obviously unaware of their place in history, and bicker among themselves like a bunch of rowdy gangbangers.
Aaron Walker's Satan is stylish and seductive; in a business boardroom, he would be a candidate for a sexual harassment suit. Trevor Hofvendahl is a sweet and intrinsically sad Jesus, but he doesn't quite have the heft for the role, and we can't see him being a match for Satan. Mary Magdalene (Luciana Fuller) has a touching monologue: she denies that she was Jesus' wife (shades of The Da Vinci Code), but she does claim that she was his best friend.
Roger McCune's seascape provides a stunning backdrop to the action. It could be the Sea of Galilee, with a ruined wooden pier stretching off into the distance, like a row of crucifixes. Eliza Linley's canvases of the Stations of the Cross decorate the walls of the theater and bring us back to the seriousness of the underlying subject. Phil Collins of New Music Works composed the original music for the play. Linda Dunham is the costumer.
In a world addicted to sound bites, Guirgis is not afraid of lengthy monologues. He lets his characters talk, argue and develop. The action moves along smartly during the court scenes. However, there are times when Guirgis gets carried away by his own rhetoric and lets the characters ramble on repetitively. The monologues of Caiaphas and Pilate could have been cut drastically; Guirgis has obviously never heard of Occam's razor. The play really loses momentum in the final scenes, and even the confrontation between Satan and Jesus can't save it. The Butch Honeywell (Roger McCune) monologue to Judas is slow, lengthy and doesn't add much to the action.
It would be a mistake to go to this play thinking it's another version of the Easter story. It does deal with the crucifixion and examines the blame that could be laid at the doors of Pilate, Caiaphas and, of course, Judas. There's enough blame to go around. However, the play takes irreverent potshots at established religions, social mores and iconic figures. If that's not enough, the racy language could offend the really pure of heart. However, the play is about forgiveness, taking responsibility for one's actions and, not least, compassion. The inner message is conventional; the messenger certainly is not.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm until Oct. 28 at the Broadway Playhouse, in the Santa Cruz Art League, 526 Broadway, Santa Cruz. For tickets call 877.238.5596, or go online at www.piscesmoon.org.
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