We, The Jury, Declare Judas a Triumph
I had the pleasure of attending the preview of Theatre Found’s The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. The story revolves around a high stakes court battle to determine the eternal fate of the Bible’s most infamous betrayer, Judas Iscariot. A flood of heavy and heart wrenching subject matter, Last Days involves themes of love, forgiveness, regret, and of course, religion. This is the kind of show that pierces your heart and makes rethink everything you thought you knew about God, Satan, and that guy who liked wine and hung out with whores and fisherman.
It would be so Christian of me to assume you all know the back story of Judas Iscariot, so allow me to give you a quick and messy synopsis of what I remember from Sunday school. According to this book about 2000 years ago, this lady was impregnated by this angel, and the baby was like the Messiah! A straight up gift from God to the people of the world, a prophet who would unite the world and bring the grace of God to the people. Jesus grows up to be this pretty cool dude and shows off some dope magical…I mean, godly powers. He’s so bad ass that everyone wants to be his friend, so he puts together a posse, an entourage, a fellowship if you will, of disciples who would assist him in spreading the word of God. Well, the Jewish people didn’t like that this Jesus dude was going totes viral. They wanted to go all Game of Thrones on him and take his house down. So they persuade one of Jesus’s closest disciples Judas Iscariot, to give up Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Judas marks Jesus with a kiss to the Lips and the Romans take Jesus, crucify him, and he rises from the dead in three days. Yay, Easter! Judas on the other hand stricken by guilt hangs himself on an olive tree and gets sent to purgatory and it’s there that the story of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot begins.
We then find ourselves in Purgatory, which according to Saint Monica (Lelea’e “Buffy” Kahalepuna-Wong) is pretty much the same as earth…hmmmmm maybe we’re all in purgatory right now and we don’t even know it. Da DA DAAAAHHH!!! This lawyer Cunningham fights to get the case of “The Kingdom of Heaven vs. Judas Iscariot” on the docket. Enlisting the help of a saint and getting a writ from God is enough to start what will be the most controversial court case in all of purgatory. Biblical characters of all shapes and sizes take the stand in either opposition or defense of Judas. What will the verdict be? Will Judas be allowed into the kingdom of Heaven? Will he be sentenced to eternity in hell? Or will he be stuck in purgatory contemplating his decisions forever?
This production is an absolute triumph of local theatre. Although the three main characters of the play Satan, and the two lawyers are from the mainland, the bulk of the cast is made up of some of Hawaii’s best artists. It would really be a disservice to the cast to single out anyone’s individual performance. I truly believe they were all so passionately united in delivering one singular goal and that was to tell the story. Passion is the best word to describe this play. No one was on stage to look good, to be the star, or steal the show; and so instead of being drawn to the acting I was pulled into the story. I’m not sure if it was because it was preview and it was the last day to explore their characters or what not, but on Tuesday night every actor just went for it! Balls to walls, guns blazing, unadulterated theater. I really hope they keep that since of tenacity and rawness that I experienced on preview night.
The end of act one was so action packed and high stakes that I wish we didn’t take an intermission. It seemed that both the audience and the actors relaxed a bit too much during the break as the start of the second act felt slow, but the pace picks up nicely and the end left me speechless and in shock.
I think the true success of this show is the way Director Mark Branner was able to keep the show based in reality, while not taking itself too seriously. By this I mean, Branner was able to balance the the obscene dialog along with the heavy themes masterfully. This was also perfectly translated in the costumes. Iris Kim’s costume design was so spot on in my opinion. One costume favorite in particular was Pontius Pilate’s subtle dark breast plate under a grey trench coat. It was cool, modern, conveyed the character perfectly, and Jason Quinn looked great in it. The audience sat in a tennis court set up, with an elevated center stage serving as the court room floor. Two large concrete structures stood tall on both sides like book ends. You see at the audience on the other side and think they’re the jury in this court case and then it hits you, and you realize you’re staring into a mirror and you are the jury. The whole black box space is so cleverly utilized. I dare not give away any of the surprises in store for you.
A good rich story should leave you with more questions than answers. And here’s a few of the ones I had. Do you believe if Jesus wanted to He could have saved himself from death? Do you think He let it all happen because He gave up on man? Or do you think He knew what the greater plan was and opened Himself up to it knowing it would be for the greater good? Maybe Judas knew that bigger plan also. Maybe he knew what role he had to play in this story and did so freely knowing it would be for the greater good. I mean in the end, Jesus’s sacrifice is what gave all of man eternal life in the kingdom of Heaven, right? It’s hard to argue that this wasn’t in Gods plan. The Bible says that God has a plan for you from before you were born. How then can we persecute Judas for fulfilling his God given plan? Did Judas draw the short straw? Did God acting as author, think at one point “Okay, I need to teach my children not to betray me or anyone they love…hmmmmm. I got it! Let’s make Judas the betrayer and he will serve as a symbol for all eternity. But then by the grace of God he shall be forgiven as his sins shall be washed away by the sacrifice of my one and only son.” Of course that didn’t make it into the book as to this day people still view Judas a villain. In my opinion both parties sacrificed themselves for the greater good. One is viewed as the greatest symbol of God’s love and compassion, the other the symbol for betrayal and greed. I feel like this story presents the idea that we are judged by people for the darkest thing we’ve done in our lives, but we are judged by God for the best things we’ve contributed to the world. Why is it that we as people seem preprogrammed only to see darkest. So much so that we imprison ourselves, persecute ourselves, crucify ourselves, because of what we do in life.
I could be completely wrong in my thought process, but I know for sure that any show that can make someone think and question the world this much is great theatre. I implore everyone whether you’re religious, an atheist, a Buddhist, an actor, a writer, a director, or simply a human being trying to exist in this world to go and see this show. You will not regret it. I can’t guarantee you’ll like it, love it, or hate it, but I can guarantee you’ll leave the theater with a higher appreciation for the art of story telling, the importance of religion or a higher power, and how that effects the way we live and make choices in our lives.
I’ll end this review by sharing the final thought The Last days of Judas Iscariot left me with. “Maybe we do create our own hell and if that’s the case perhaps we can create our own heaven.”