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Review: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Reviewer Cameron Woodhead
May 15, 2010

Review published in The Age

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
By Stephen Adly Guirgis Human Sacrifice Theatre fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, city, until May 30

BETWEEN heaven and hell, there’s courtroom drama. With The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, American playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis – a writer for NYPD Blue and The Sopranos – takes us into a theatrical retrial of Jesus’ betrayer.

Human Sacrifice Theatre has assembled a huge cast (the play has more than 20 characters, and there’s no doubling up) to deliver an ambitious, probing and diabolically entertaining production.

Heard in purgatory, the case is presided over by a hanging judge (Bruce Kerr), hearing argument from an unctuous prosecutor (Adam Mattaliano) and an impassioned liberal defence attorney (Holly Shanahan).

The parade of witnesses features fictional, biblical and historical figures. Everyone from Judas’s heartbroken mother (Gail Beker) to Mother Teresa (Frances Hutson) to Satan (Mark Diaco) is called to the stand.

Religion is given the Law & Order treatment. The play tackles the erudite realm of Christian theodicy: how can we reconcile the idea of an all-powerful, benevolent God with the existence of evil? A big question – asked and tentatively answered through fast-paced forensic duelling, irreverent humour, moments of dramatic revelation, and a common touch.

Several characters are reimagined with demotic New York personae: Saint Monica, mother of Saint Augustine (Chantelle Jamieson), becomes a big-hearted black sistah; Pontius Pilate (Patrick Williams) appears as a tough-talking Obama figure.

In other cases, Australian accents are cannily preserved: Simon the Zealot and Saint Peter are presented as unpretentious, working-class apostles.

Other highlights include Kristof Kaczmarek as the tormented Caiaphas, the high priest who delivered Jesus into the Romans’ hands, and Justin Hocking as the tragic jury foreman.

Director David Myles brings out a mosaic of sharp, intimate performances that gives full scope to the play’s comedy without cheapening its agonistic drama. It’s a production that in many ways holds a mirror to the passion of Christ. The wordless final scene is telling. In the dimmest light, Jesus washes Judas’s feet … but the fallen disciple, his whole body clenched into a fist, remains insensible to all but his own pain.

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