A Strong Cast and Skilled Designers Liven the Last Days of Judas Iscariot
Director Mark Branner has assembled a top notch cast of local and mainland based actors and designers to fulfill the demanding task of this presentation.
Judas (Donovan Oakleaf) sits, catatonic, at a far side of the stage. His defense attorney (Carolina Barcos) argues with the judge that his case needs to be heard to possibly save him from eternal damnation. The judge (Walt Gaines) refuses as the prosecuting attorney (Nicholas Guilak) argues against a trial as Judas is the worst sinner in the Bible and therefore deserves to be cast in the fires of Hell. The case is thrown out but with a little help from Saint Monica (who has Gods ear), Judas case is brought back in. Saint Monica gets results.
Witnesses are called in by both the prosecution and the defense; Judas mother; Henrietta Iscariot (Laura Clark Greaver/Stacy Ray), Sigmund Freud (Peter Clark), Caiaphas the Elder (Joe Abraham), Simon the Zealot (Antonio Anagaran Jr.), Mother Teresa (Eden Lee Murray), Pontius Pilate (Jason Quinn) and the man himself, Satan (Stephan Wolfert).
Saint Monica (Leleaʻe “Buffy” Kahalepuna-Wong) and Mary Magdalene (Anna Klein Hamaguchi) while not being called as witnesses, give testament to their part in the story as they watch from above Purgatory…seemingly from a place far, far uptown.
Listening to each testimony I found myself leaning in. As a youngster, I’d always been reminded of my religion. How everything was black and white, good or bad. No gray, no way. But I always thought or knew that the Bible was written by man and then edited by King Charles, also a man but a King. So how do we, as a religion, as a people, put our faith and destiny in words and commandments written by one of us?
Each witness gives their side of the story. The side you wont find written in the Bible but maybe wondered about…”what if”? With this production we get to bear witness to that side. Finally.
Like a biblical episode of Law and Order.
The entire cast gives an outstanding performance. Each bought their A-game to this production and truly stepped up to the plate including Serina Dunham as the Bailiff and Misa Tupou as Mathias. This is a very strong and generous ensemble. The dedication to their craft is apparent in the delivery of their performance as individual actors and as an ensemble.
The set is presented in tennis court seating, the play area sits in the middle with the audience witnessing the action on either side, and with or without intention of the set designer, the audience may essentially feel like a part of the jury. This is the first time in years that I’ve seen Earl Ernst Lab theatre in a different configuration other than proscenium. Credit set designer DeAnne Kennedy for thinking outside the box. The set is reminiscent of The Temple of Dandur exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Dense, rolling fog and a well placed light design by Brian Shevelenko give a balance of mood and ambience. Costumes by Iris Kim add texture and finish to this production. Kim outfits her actors in apparel that fit the character and not necessarily the stereotype. With the culmination of these talented designers and technicians, we find ourselves in the midst of a courtroom “located between heaven and hell in downtown Purgatory”.
But don't get it twisted, this is not a play you're going to see at your local New Christian play Festival. It is intelligent, sharp, witty, risqué and bold. You'll find yourself talking about what you just saw and it may stay with you for a few days. But that's what good plays do, what they're supposed to do. Initiate thought and conversation. Appropriate for all audiences but leave the under 12 year olds at home or else be ready to answer a lot of questions—-maybe that would be a good thing. For all its foul language and F-bombs we are reminded that Jesus used to hang out with prostitutes and fishermen…so there's that.
In the final scenes, as I listened to Jesus (Branner) trying to reason and reach out to Judas, I thought to myself, “Am I like Judas? Are we all like Judas?”
I stayed for the talk back that the cast and crew offered after the show and when I left, I ran into a friend who had also just seen the show. We kissed aloha and remarked on what we had just witnessed. As I left I called back, “Yeah, I think it makes me want to go back to church again”. We laughed and said goodnight. But it really does.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, a play by Stephen Adly Guirgis and presented by Theatre Found, plays now through Sunday September 3 at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa’s Earl Ernst Lab Theatre. Initially written in 2005, this play garnered the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Advance tickets may be purchased online at www.judasinhawaii.com for a discounted price of $15 while general admission tickets of $20 will be offered at the door one hour before each performance. On a final note, take home the program and give it a good read. There's a lot more interesting information about this production. Support local theatre!