The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
Stephen Adly Guirgis
Anthony Law Productions
St Leonard's Church
From 19 April 2013 to 19 May 2013
Review by Melissa Poll
Known to London for its 2008 première at the Almeida, Stephen Adly Guirgis’s unmistakably bold, brash and American The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is back. Unfortunately, Anthony Law’s production, staged in Shoreditch’s St Leonard’s Church, fails to rock the hallowed ground it occupies.
Written in 2006, Guirgis’s The Last Days of Judas Iscariot revisits Judas’s betrayal of Christ via a trial set in the afterlife’s holding cell—purgatory. As counsel calls forth a host of eclectic witnesses, from Sigmund Freud to Pontius Pilate, it slowly becomes evident that everyone, including the jury foreman and the audience, is complicit in their own, and therefore Christ’s, undoing.
Law’s direction is largely responsible for setting this production off track. His staging provides no evidence of the simple but integral director’s work of setting clear, immediate stakes for the performers and ensuring that each actor is actively listening. Those who manage to imbue their performances with objectives, therefore, demonstrate an active engagement that is largely absent from this production overall. In this respect, Tom Greaves as Jesus, Peter Marinker as Judge Littlefield / Caiaphas the Elder and Law himself, as the jury foreman, shine.
Law’s direction is also guilty of allowing Guirgis’s great one-liners to be lost, whether through garbled American accents or inaudibility. When lines like ‘Jesus said “I’m going to die soon so just chill”’ are incomprehensible, so is Guirgis’s signature irreverence.
Overall, performances are uneven. While some actors excel at bringing the play’s funny and foul-mouthed characters to comedic life, including Shereen Russell as a deliciously un-saintly Saint Monica and Michael Aguilo as the brown-nosing prosecutor, others struggle.
As defence attorney Fabiana Cunningham, Laurence Bouvard relies almost exclusively on sarcasm, leading to a predictable cadence and largely blank characterization. For her part Kathy Trevelyan can’t quite deliver the accent or the embodied Southern sass of the angel Gloria. And as Judas, Priyank Morjaria fails to offer any spark or dynamism that might keep spectators engaged in his plight.
This being said, Law’s direction and the production’s weak performances are not the only problems here. The flaws in Guirgis’s script have become more apparent over time, particularly when held up to his recent Broadway hit The Motherfucker with the Hat. Though The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is inarguably funny and thought-provoking, it could easily amp up the narrative with fewer monologues and more rapid-fire dialogue.
With a three-hour running time, an often elusive thematic focus and a somewhat clunky coda appealing to the ‘everyman’ in all of us, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot demonstrates good playwriting from an author en route to being infinitely better.