Thursday, March 17, 2011

On Judas

I packed quite a few adjectives into my review of “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” but one thing that I didn’t say specifically was that it was relevant. That seems like a pretty tepid adjective but it’s a pretty powerful endorsement in my book. Unfortunately, it’s not a word that I am frequently inspired to use in reference to a show. “Relevance” initially occurred to me during the testimony of Mother Theresa, the first scene that made me really sit up and take notice during the show. Here was a still-beloved contemporary figure being called to task for her less-than-spotless moral rectitude, a scene brought to vivid life thanks to performances by Jennie Meharg and Kristen Swanson. Certainly relevant as you consider that Pope John Paul II is set to be beatified in another couple of months. Kinda makes you wonder whether that whole sainthood thing is a little more complicated than you were taught in Sunday school, if not an outright farce.

Later on, we realize that there are compelling existential questions underlying Jennie Meharg’s character’s investment in Judas’s trial. And really, they are the kind of questions that we all face at different times in our lives. As the tragedy in Japan continues to unfold, how can we not wonder about the nature of God? Given the overwhelming scale of big tragedies and the prevalence of little daily tragedies, how do we find solace and/or hope? Simple honest people seem to be punished by fate when real modern-day villains (hello, Wall Street billionaires! And hey there, Khadafi!) wallow in their riches. How can you not wonder whether God really cares, perhaps whether he really exists?

Of course, the play does a great job of bringing it all down to a humanist level with the scene between Jesus and Judas and then Jonathan Conyer’s character’s coda. Whether we go to a physical hell or not, there is unquestionably an emotional hell and some people are living it every day.

I could talk about the content of this play for hours, making it a perfect “Acts of Faith” entry in my humble opinion, but it must be mentioned that Bo Wilson got some incredible performances out of his cast. I’ve slathered praise on David Clark and Ronnie Brown already but they deserve at least one more layer. Mr. Clark is a delight throughout the show and Mr. Brown is riveting as Pilate. Other stand-outs to me were Vinnie Gonzalez as Satan and Jill Bari Steinberg as Judas’s mother. And while Diana Carver was indeed hilariously profane as Saint Monica, I was pretty sure she was going wonky on some lines on opening night. Call me a stickler but I’m a firm believer that, before anything else, you have to know the lines.

This collaboration between Henley and RTP has certainly proven a winner and hopefully will lead to additional similarly exceptional co-pros in the future. This is the last weekend to see it and they’ve added a show on Sunday so there’s no excuse to miss it.

1 comment:

Andrew Hamm said...

This is a script in need of an editor. Not one of the show's many two-to-three-page monologues couldn't stand a 25% trim, and many of the scenes do as well. I'm not sure how to do that; there's so much brilliant detail in the text that excising it would have felt like slow amputation. But as brilliant as this play is, it doesn't do anything for me that it couldn't have done in slightly more concentrated form in 150 minutes.

It is to Mr. Wilson's credit that the production was very swift in tempo; almost no long pauses and a lot of great overlapping of lines. A lesser director and cast might have succumbed to the temptation to milk every moment; this company recognizes that indulging long dramatic beats in act one leads to audience yawns in act two.

Other than a few nitpicky details (I wouldn't be a theatre artist if I didn't think "I'd have done it this way instead"), Last Days was a completely satisfying night of theatre, and the finest work I've seen Henley Street produce. (I have to recuse myself in judging it in comparison with RTP offerings.) At three hours, this is a long play. It's three hours well spent. Well played, company of Judas Iscariot!