Photograph by Vera Sloan
ON TRIAL: Isaac Benelli's Judas must confront his accusers in 'The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.'
City Lights asks what the true meaning of loyalty is in 'The Last Days of Judas Iscariot'
By Jessica Fromm
IN THE REALM between heaven and hell, the world's biggest sinner is up for trial. Everybody from a dirty-mouthed St. Monica to Sigmund Freud and Mother Teresa are called on to bear witness to the innocence or guilt of Jesus' infamous betrayer in Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, now running at City Lights. This provocative, uncompromising production holds nothing sacred as it delves with uproarious dark humor into the hard questions about good and evil, to largely enjoyable results. In the a modern, urban purgatory court of law presided over by Judge Littlefield (Bill Davidovich), a catatonic Judas Iscariot (Isaac Benelli) sits motionless in a glass box while two lawyers fight for his place in the afterlife, whether it is forgiveness or eternal damnation. Though the main momentum of this play lies in the courtroom drama, it eventually comes to light that what is really on trial here is not the man but the question of what is real loyalty and real betrayal in every soul.
The black, two-level set is basic but effective, with music and sound effects used minimally by director Kit Wilder. The main action takes place on a moodily lit circular courtroom in front of the elevated, shamelessly biased Civil War–era judge, who sits on a bourbon-soaked perch. The highlight of this witty, strongly written play is the comic delivery of John Romano as the perspiring, hairpin-erection-bearing prosecution attorney Yusef El-Fayoumy. Meandering around onstage while pandering to various saints and frequently covering his crotch with his red tasseled fez, his greasy, awkwardly comic demeanor truly carries this production. Though she had the assets to play Judas' buxom, cleavage-bearing defense lawyer Fabiana Aziza Cunningham, Alika Ululani Spencer never quite hits the same stride with her character. Spencer fumbled through her line delivery several times, muddling up what should have been impassioned pleading for her client's soul, making her speeches seem practiced and lacking the same impact as much of the other cast.
Trash-talking, streetwise St. Monica (played by amusing newcomer Lonnique Genelle) saunters into the proceedings sporadically to keep things real, while a Gucci-suit-clad Satan (Jeff Clarke) appears at various points to stir things up as an alternatively charming, then hostile witness. Jesus of Nazareth's (Robert Campbell) role serves as more of a mood device, much talked about by the other characters but never really delivering any lines until the play's disappointing, anticlimactic finale. Though the beginning and ending scenes are the production's weakest points, when The Last Days of Judas Iscariot successfully hit its stride toward the production's middle, it challenges the audience's perceptions about holy judgment and personal redemption with injections of contemporary wit and hilarity.
THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT, a City Lights Theater Company production, plays Thursday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2 (Oct. 11 and 18) or 7pm (Sept. 27 and Oct. 4) through Oct. 18 at City Lights, 529. S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $15–$30. (408.295.4200)
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