Mad Horse Theatre Company’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” is delightfully irreverent and packed with kinetic energy.
It is a courtroom drama where firebrand attorney Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Janice Gardner) appeals the decision that condemned Judas Iscariot (Nick Schroeder) to spend eternity in hell. Judas can not speak for himself. He sits in a catatonic state, only occasionally shedding a tear.
Representing the Gates of Heaven and the Kingdom of God is Yusef El-Fayoumy (Mark Rubin), a fawning flatterer with dubious legal skills. Witnesses include Sigmund Freud (Tony Reilly), Pontius Pilate (Caleb Aaron Coulthard), Mother Teresa (Tootie Van Reenen) and Satan (Brent Askari).
At its heart, the two-act play, first performed in 2005, is about the nature of forgiveness — human and divine. The show opens with a touching monologue by Henrietta Iscariot (Christine Louise Marshall), Judas’ mother, who has rejected God because her son is in hell.
“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” later ends with Butch Honeywell (Jody McColman) confessing to Judas his regret over his own betrayals. The final scene is of Christ (Jason LeSaldo), who is a silent presence through the play, washing the feet of the catatonic Judas.
Director Stacey Koloski does her best to move the action along but the play clocks in at three hours. After about two and a half hours, it starts to feel like a slog for the audience, whose attention span seem to shrink every year. Her strength as a director is building an ensemble of actors who mine Guirgis’ script for all its absurd and, at times, very vulgar humor while giving depth and charisma to each character.
Erica Murphy’s performance as St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine who intervenes with God on Judas’ behalf, is the best evidence of how Koloski lets her actors muckle onto a character and run. Guirgis wrote St. Monica as a foul-mouthed rapper whose cadence is as close to a gatling gun as it gets.
Murphy’s energetic performance lights up the stage every time she strides onto it. Her St. Monica is delightful in a reverently irreverent way that makes theatergoers rethink their definition of sainthood.
Guirgis gives Satan all the best lines and Askari revels in every one. While Coulthard’s Pontius Pilate looks and acts like a modern mobster, Askari’s performance as Satan is reminiscent of Edward G. Robinson’s film portrayals of a gangster from an earlier era. Askari’s Satan is all about entitlement and superiority and the ability to deflate the confidence of every other character with a withering glance or an intimidating insult.
Gardner and Rubin, whose characters would be jailed for contempt by a Maine judge for their grandstanding, verbally tussle and tango as the lawyers in Judas’ case. They give wonderfully insightful performances as does Burke Brimmer as Judge Littlefield.
As Judas, Schroeder’s portrayal is fascinating to watch. For much of the play, he is so still, he appears to barely be breathing. Suddenly, the actor will spring to life as a Judas full of anger and regret unable to forgive himself for the betrayal of Christ. Schroeder’s Judas is not entirely likable in his resentment of how little attention Jesus paid to him. It is a dynamic and complex performance.
With this production, presented during Lent, Mad Horse challenges its audience to look at the story of the crucifixion from a different perspective than the one taught in Sunday school. “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” is not about whether there is or isn’t a God.
It is about the nature of and the need for forgiveness in all its forms. That seems as pertinent a message now as it was about 2,000 years ago.
“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” will be performed through Sunday at the former Mosher School, 24 Mosher Street in South Portland. For information, call 747-4148 or visit madhorse.com.