|Laurence Olivier once said that “in a great city, or even in a small city or a village, great theatre is the outward and visible sign of an inward and probable culture“. There is no better proof of this than in the umbilical connection between Vancouver’s thriving culture and bourgeoning theatre scene.
Here on Cue to Cue we’ll regularly feature in-depth previews and reviews of the shows that create the face of Vancouver theatre, as well as interviews with the local artists behind it all…
Presented by the Cultch
Produced by Pound of Flesh Theatre in association with Pacific Theatre and Neworld Theatre
Presented with Rumble Productions as part of the 2012 TREMORS Festival
“It must be difficult to have only questions”
Is any mistake too big for forgiveness? If man has choice, and god made man, are any choices actually mistakes? If god is all forgiving, then why does Judas Iscariot sit in hell? In The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ own beliefs are put to trial along with the world’s most famous traitor. Thankfully for us, Guirgis’ own disaccord is asserted with biting humour and voiced by some of the best actors in the city. Certainly one of the best productions of the year, Judas Iscariot offers a black-comedy of biblical proportions rooted in doubt and lifted by contemporary bombast.
If heaven and hell are a mindset, as the play seems to suggest, it seems fitting that purgatory is really a place called Hope. It’s to this end we watch a trial between “God and the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth versus Judas Iscariot”, presided over by a surly judge (Kevin McNulty) who has languished there for 140 years after a civil war suicide. While at times deeply poetic, we learn that this court room drama is as many parts The Wire as it is Perry Mason. As the unceremonious Saint Monica, the brilliant Marci T. House sets the pace for the rest of the night. In response to being thought of as “heaven’s nag” she replies “I am a nag, and if I wasn’t a nag… the church wouldn’t a had no Father of the Church named Saint Augustine—cuz I birthed that mothahfuckah, raised him, and when he started messin’ up, like, all the time and constantly, I nagged God’s ass to save him!”. This is a masterpiece in which the strict bonds of naturalism need not exist.
Guirgis paints the most doubting of his characters in Judas’ defiant and agnostic defense attourney, Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (the strong Katherine Venour). In cross-examining the aged Mother Teresa (a hilarious Dawn Petten) for example, even the Nobel Peace Prize recipient’s historical missteps don’t go unnoticed or compared to our defendant. It is Sigmund Freud (Anthony J. Ingram) who argues for the defence that Judas was no more in control of his actions than a man with a cold who sneezes. As character witnesses, (staged beautifully in the balconies of the church-like Historic Cultch theatre) we hear from several of Jesus’ disciples who speak of a man who gave them hope in a time of war and poverty.
Perhaps the most powerful case for Judas’ redemption comes from Jesus’ best friend and rumoured lover Mary Magdalene (played with great subtlety by Adrienne Wong) when she describes the dynamic between the pair, “When I think of Judas, my heart breaks… and I know Jesus’ heart hurts for him worse than mine”. One of the strongest performances of the night comes from the powerfully chartismatic Carl Kennedy as Pontius Pilate. Seen in last year’s hit Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, Kennedy delivers the necessary grit and rapture that Guirgis’ arguments demand.
Other notable performances come from prosecutor El-Fayoumy (played with great texture by Marcus Youssef) and the wickedly charming Satan himself (Michael Kopsa) who exudes a burnt-out hedonism and acridly earns some of the few speechless responses of the night. As the catatonic and at times indignant Judas, Bob Frazer beautifully delivers the restraint and distress required of a man who’d rather die than ask forgiveness. As his counterpart, Todd Thompson’s Jesus is a meditation on love and self-forgiveness.
This is a big play. With 27 characters, and a running time of nearly three hours, it seems only fitting that the material is tackled by five of Vancouver’s biggest theatre companies.
Under Stephen Drover’s masterful direction, this production is nearly perfect. The show (specifically the second half) could have been shorter, and jury foreman Butch Honeywell’s (perfectly played by Ron Reed) beautiful monologue specifically was done a disservice with the choice of having the jury be off stage the whole play (after nearly 3 hours it was difficult to care to hear a 10 minute monologue from a character I hadn’t seen prior). The Vancouver-centric script revisions done to Jesus’ monologue also fell flat. The direction shined throughout, however, as the pacing clips along and performances are given room to breathe.
With Drew Facey’s design, the beautiful Cultch transforms into part warzone and part apocalyptic cathedral. Facey also designs the costumes in this production with an irreverent flair (Uncle Pino was a personal favourite). Itai Erdal’s lighting allows seemless tonal and time shifts, with perhaps the most beautiful moment coming early on when lights shift from a front wash to side shins during Henrietta Iscariot’s (Beatrice Zeilinger) solitary description of her son’s end. The visual subtlety is as heartbreaking as the material.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot delivers one of the best examinations of humanity you will ever receive. With a relatively short run, see it while you can.
WHEN: Apr 11-15, 17-21: 8PM Apr 14, 21: 2PM
WHERE: THE HISTORIC THEATRE AT THE CULTCH (1895 Venables Street, at Victoria Drive)
TICKETS: Tickets from $16 through The Cultch’s Box Office: 604-251-1363 or tickets.thecultch.com.
ADDED VALUE: Post-show talkbacks: Apr 14 2PM, Apr 17 8PM