Sometimes, we could all use a little love and understanding – even, perhaps, the man who betrayed Jesus Christ. In Forum Theatre’s crackling production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, a superb cast brings an emotional, modern day spin to Jesus’ betrayal and Judas’ subsequent trial before a jury of ethereal peers. Director John Vreeke wrings can’t-look-away performances and captivating emotion from the winding tale of saints, sinners, purgatorial jury members, and the quest for ultimate forgiveness that binds them all together.
The audience enters the theater to witness Judas sitting motionless on a central pedestal, ringed by a motionless, motley crew of ethereal judge, jury, and attorneys. Scenic and Lighting Director Colin K. Bills builds an otherworldly courtroom that seems to expand to infinity with his use of black paint, stark white tube lights, and sharp, geometric wires stretching overhead in all directions. In this salon of divine justice, we first meet Judas’ mother Henrietta Iscariot, who pleads with the audience to see the good in her son. It’s vital that Henrietta, played with plaintive sadness by Annie Houston, take the stand first in order to immediately broach the audacious idea that even Judas has a soul worth saving.
From there, the trial slowly builds steam, progressing toward a verdict through a steady rhythm of procedural hurdles, legal curveballs, and captivating testimony. It’s like the most complex episode of Law and Order ever conceived, at once concerned with both the minutia of legal procedure and the grand implications of divine retribution and human frailty. The expansive cast of characters is modeled largely after New York City archetypes and cultural memory, owing to playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’ formative years growing up on the Upper East Side. Guirgis also sprinkles in key historical figures in the fields of religion, charity, and psychoanalysis, who help give context to Judas’ notorious act in the Garden of Gethsemane.
While there’s hardly enough space to sing the praises of all fifteen polished cast members, several key performances deserve special mention. Alina Collins Maldonado breaks the tension of the early proceedings with her sassy, in-your-face turn as Saint Monica, mother of Saint Augustine. Through her emotive eyes and flashing smile, Maldonado blends barrio swagger with tender vulnerability as she recounts her transformative visit to Judas’ infernal prison.
Scott McCormick provides vital comic relief to the rapidly intensifying proceedings as blowhard prosecutor Yusef El-Fayoumy. McCormick walks a fine line between sharp legal mind and sycophantic bootlicker; one minute he is figuratively nailing Judas to a wall with expert litigation, and the next he is wooing his opposing defense counsel with the worst pickup lines ever written outside of the Craigslist personals section.
Closes June 14, 2014
Forum Theatre at
Round House Silver Spring
8641 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, MD
3 hours with 1 intermission
Tickets: Pay What You Want or
Guaranteed seating: $20-$25
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
As Judas’ counsel Fabiana Aziza Cunningham, Julie Garner wows with her slow burn performance as a defense lawyer with a checkered past and a chip on her shoulder the size of Manhattan. She holds her own in a battle of wits with El-Fayoumy, giving as good as she gets, until a fateful encounter with Lucifer on the witness unleashes an arresting torrent of bottled emotion. And the man that brings Cunningham to tears is none other than the scene-stealing Jim Jorgensen, who imbues the Prince of Darkness with equal parts effortless cool, childlike glee, and viper-tongued malice. Jorgensen employs a bombastic blend of good natured jokes and acrid fire and brimstone to assert his power and remind attorneys and witnesses alike of how inconsequential they truly are.
(All photos by Melissa Blackall Photography)
At three hours running time, this is the longest play I’ve seen in years, yet the seamless current of howling humor and complex moral debate made the time fly. Even as we emerged from the theater at close to midnight, I still wanted more.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot cements both Guirgis’ place among the top modern playwrights and Forum Theatre’s well-deserved perch within the upper echelon of Washington mid-sized theaters.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis . Directed by John Vreeke . Featuring Annie Houston, Patrick Bussink, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Kecia A. Campbell, Brian Hemmingsen, Thony Mena, Julie Garner, Scott McCormick, Alina Collins Maldonado, Nora Achrati, Frank Britton, Frank B. Moorman, Eric Porter, Jim Jorgensen and Jesse Terrill . Scenic and Lighting Design: Colin K. Bills . Costume Design: Brittany Graham . Sound Design: Michael Dove . Dramaturg: Hannah Hessel Ratner . Stage Manager: Jenn Carlson. Produced by Forum Theatre . Reviewed by Ben Demers.