Christina Yancy portrays Judas’ mother, Henrietta. Photo courtesy of University Marketing & Communications
Judas Iscariot – one of the 12 disciples and eventual traitor of Christ was doomed to reside in hell for his crimes, according to common Christian belief. But did he actually deserve it? That is what “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” attempts to answer under the premise of a court case in purgatory.
Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by UM professor Michael Walker, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” focuses on Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (played by Melissa Hund) and Yusef El-Fayoum (played by Ryan Orso), as they pull figures from history to debate whether or not Judas should stay in hell.
Interspersed between the court scenes are flashbacks to Judas’ past and testimonies about Judas from people who worked closely with him, helping illuminate to the audience and the judge the true story of Judas Iscariot.
The show begins with a powerful monologue by Henrietta Iscariot (played by Christina Yancy) informing the audience of some of the facts of Judas’ life through the loving eyes of his mother.
She tells of his death, burial and that he currently resides in hell. This monologue is one of the most crucial in the show, and Yancy delivered it brilliantly and in a way that predisposed the audience to sympathize with Judas’ character.
She goes on to tell us about the Judas she knew – not a traitor, but her son. After this, we are transported to Judge Littlefield’s court room, where Cunningham approaches him with Judas’ trial and the meat of the show begins.
Judas Iscariot is a highly controversial character in both history and theology, so one could expect a heavy-handed script. Yet, “Judas” manages to include not only some very light-hearted moments, but outright hilarious scenes, such as the introduction of Saint Monica (played by Amber Hayes).
She enters the scene accompanied by strobe lights and party music, dressed to the nines in an ensemble one might find at a disco party instead of the gates of heaven. In another scene, El-Fayoum finds himself so enamored by Mother Teresa that the court must call recess so he can collect himself.
The show is not wholly comedic either, however, with many powerful scenes discussing what truly defines an irredeemable person and debating the true merit it takes to get into heaven. The idea of grace is mentioned often throughout the script and is never handled lightly.
By far the most poignant scene comes at the end of the show, in the final conversation between Judas Iscariot and Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus (played by Elisha Taylor) embodies the idea of peace as he slowly follows Judas around the space, and Judas (played by Trevon Lee) builds his character into a force of anger that spits in Jesus’ face and screams about how he just wants to be left alone.
The show ends with Judas returning to his catatonic state and Jesus beginning to wash his feet, symbolizing that in the end it does not matter what humans decide – God’s grace is extended to all.
The cast of “Judas” is one for the ages, as every member seemed to truly understand their character and embody them to the fullest.
Jay Mobley as Butch Honeywell was fantastic, especially in the final scene. Nolan Evans as Satan also brought his A game, playing a character who bounces from amiable to pissed to terrifyingly manipulative in a highly captivating manner.
The set design by Kel Laegar was similarly incredible, making use of the versatile space by making one of the back windows into an entrance for some of the actors, and steps leading down into the court room to give the space the vibe of an arena or a pit.
The use of smoke and strobe lights during various entrances also helped in adding an extra layer of excitement to many scenes, and it provided additional characterization for a few characters before they even said a word.
Ultimately, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” is a show that asks two things. Who deserves God’s grace? Who decides that?
By applying those questions to a person like Iscariot who is such a notorious figure, it truly allows the viewer to re-examine their beliefs while still presenting the facts. “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” was smart, heartfelt and a wonderful piece of theater.