Culture Writer Frankie Rhodes reviews a moving touring production of Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Spendid SunsWritten by Frankie Rhodes on 17th May 2019
Article 19 Presents: ‘The Last Days of Judas Iscariot’ @ Minerva Works
Stephen Adley Guirgis’s The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is an interesting play. Set in modern day Brooklyn/ Purgatory, a host of historical figures come to a courtroom to discuss the fate of Judas Iscariot after his betrayal of Jesus Christ. The result of this is a play consisting of cameo appearances from the likes of Mother Teresa and Sigmund Freud. Subsequently, this creates a sense of removal: rather than seeing the truly human side of these figures, the audience is reminded of their cultural significance, and offered a few home-truths regarding their actions. (Be prepared for some revelations regarding Mother Teresa and Pontius Pilate.) This is ultimately rectified, however, by the final two scenes of the play, in which Judas and Jesus finally confront one another, and Butch Honeywell gives one of the best monologues I have ever heard.
Opinions regarding the text aside, director Hal Geller, the production team and the cast of this production deserve unlimited praise. Firstly, the director: it is no small feat to manage a cast of fifteen actors (especially during exam season). Geller understands this play, and his take on it is proof: the sparse staging of the Minerva Works warehouse, in conjunction with an excellent choice of music and very few technical features ensured that the audience’s attention was on the acting and the text. Aoife Kilalea also deserves praise for the excellent costumes: Mother Teresa’s was a personal favourite, while Judas certainly did look catatonic.
What was most astounding about this production was the quality of the acting. The cast, as a whole, was fantastic. Polly Scates made a formidable Satan; she completely owned the stage, giving Satan a calm, collected arrogance that was somehow still appealing. A personal favourite was Ally Perpick’s Saint Monica. Strutting around the courtroom with a Brooklyn swagger and infallible accent, she was cool, sassy, and owned her character’s humour.
Jacob Lovick was hilarious as El-Fayoumy; his timing was impeccable, his accent was well-rehearsed, and he showed his true dedication to the role by dying his hair. Don’t be fooled into thinking that humour is Lovick’s only talent, though: he also made an excellent Saint Matthew. The change in character was marked, with Lovick having to swiftly move from being an obsequious (and slightly creepy) lawyer to a solemn and honest disciple.
Another noteworthy performance came from Jack Fairley, who played Butch Honeywell and Sigmund Freud. He made an excellent Freud, having mastered a German accent and air of self-importance. However, he really shone as Honeywell. His monologue is perhaps the most important part of this play, and Fairley did it justice. Fairley made the play, in fact: his monologue highlighted the sense of professionalism that had been lingering in this production from its beginning.
Mention must also be given to James Dolton, who created an entirely convincing Simon the Zealot through careful body language and attention to his accent. Peter Dewhurst was also excellent, mastering two distinct accents in his roles as Judge Littlefield and Caiaphas the Elder. The scene including the latter character seemed a little superfluous at times, but Dewhurst’s captivating performance remedied any qualms.
For a play that is concerned with Judas Iscariot, the titular character actually has very little to say. Remaining in a catatonic state for the majority of the play, the actor who takes on this role really must be spectacular to make an impression. For Ben Norris, this simply wasn’t an issue. Guirgis’s scenes involving Judas require a range of emotions: we see Judas as a child, drunk in a bar, desperately attempting to recant. Norris explored these scenes with maturity, giving his character a depth that Guirgis fails to provide some of his characters. After pulling off some very convincing on-stage violence, the most emotionally raw scene of the play is the confrontation between Judas and Jesus. Chazz Redhead was everything one expected of Jesus: calm, merciful and kind, while Norris handled Judas’s resentment to his perceived passivity with tangible aggression. What was noticeable about this scene was the ostensible bond between Judas and Jesus; Redhead and Norris had wonderful chemistry, which had an almost homoerotic feel (whether this was Geller’s or Guigis’s intention, I do not know).
Director Hal Geller’s notes claim that he wants everyone who sees the play to ‘take something different from it’. Admittedly, I was hoping to feel spiritually challenged. What I took from the play, however, was revealed by Honeywell’s monologue: an appreciation of human relationships – messy, complicated, flawed, perhaps even hopeless, but ultimately real. The play seems to explore our own nihilism and seeming inability to preserve what we love most; it is this, rather than a sense of spirituality, that I left with. Guirgis’s play is most poignant and clear in its final stages. While the rest of the play dabbles in humour and caricatures, its true message is finally delivered by Honeywell, providing the audience with the emotional impact they crave from the outset. Here I must praise Guirgis: it is remarkable that a play about a group of dead people can make one feel so alive.
There are still two more performances of 'The Last Days of Judas Iscariot'. To reserve tickets, go to the Facebook page:www.facebook.com/events/463341950411095/?notif_t=plan_edited