While going to Pacific Theatre on Wednesday, to attend Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, I passed by a car dealership on Drake, filled with shiny new automobiles. At the back of the lot was a giant billboard featuring the faces of two men – smiling although they had both been beaten. The ad was for a reality TV show on HGTV called Realtor vs Realtor. I felt a twinge – more than a twinge really – is all this selling, this scrambling for cash, the best we can do as human beings?
Perhaps it’s this twinge, however strong or mild, that makes a play like The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, so powerful, even for atheists like myself. Judas sells his best friend out for thirty pieces of silver – but why? Was it the devil that made him do it? Or greed? Or was there something more going on?
Going to the show, I was a bit hesitant, because I'd heard that it was only a staged reading. But if you’re going to do a staged reading, with only two and a half days of rehearsal time, it’s best to do it with a great script, and assemble the best cast possible – which was absolutely the case. The acting in this show was so superb, I don’t even know where to begin. So let me start from the top – Bob Frazer as Judas. Having just starred in a full season as Iago at Bard on the Beach, Frazer must at this point understand something of the nature of evil. But while I didn’t care for his Iago - he played him as Othello’s chummy, beer swilling hockey buddy – to Judas he brought a tenderness, and a strange poetic emptiness, that holds your attention throughout his all too brief sections on the stage. But the rest of the cast equaled this powerfully understated Judas. Camyar Chai as a brooding, bald-headed Jesus was lovely, Kevin McNulty as the Judge and Dawn Petten as Mother Teresa were both hysterical. Michael Kopsa as the devil was simply divine (it doesn’t hurt that he looks a little bit like George W. Bush) and Marcus Youssef was terrific – he even sweats funny. But the stand out performance came from scene-stealer Sarah Afful – a recent UBC grad, who plays St. Monica as though she were a street wise gangsta on HBO’s The Wire.
Although the play at times gets a little too bogged down in theology and morality for my taste and some of the speeches could be trimmed (the play clocks in at three hours), I enjoyed it, and so did the rest of the audience, who were laughing right along with the cursing, and moved by the tenderness of humanity’s oldest bromance. Because even though it’s a comedy, the play has considerable weight. People were weeping into their hands like little children when, in the final scene, actor Ron Reed – who looks like an over sized Ron Howard (another great performance) - quotes Auden “God may reduce you on Judgement Day to tears of shame, reciting by heart the poems you may have written had your life been good”. This show is good – go see it.