UofA Studio Theatre Tackles Forgiveness

Aren’t those the least deserving of forgiveness the ones who need it the most? This is the question The Last Days of Judas Iscariot poses to the jury during a trial deciding whether Judas deserves to spend his eternity in the afterlife in hell or in heaven.  

Heavy subject matter? Sure, but Stephen Adly Guirgis’s script provides an engaging exploration of the subject of forgiveness. Set in modern times, but drawing on witnesses through the ages ranging from Pontius Pilate to St. Peter to Mother Theresa to Sigmund Freud, the language and supporting characters are amusing enough to keep the audience engaged in the timeless subject matter.

Guirgis’s script is heavy on dialogue, which was pulled off skillfully by the cast, despite the fact that it was delivered mainly through the actors shouting. When we’re all in the place between heaven and hell, our lives won’t be told in ALL CAPS WITH LOTS OF EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!! They’ll be told in sighs, whispers, drawls, soliloquys, conversations, laughter, tears – and yes, diatribes and screaming too. All the yelling in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot really overpowered what the actors were actually saying. This was a problem more with the direction than the cast – the cast’s skill being evident just in the fact that they pulled off this three hour, dialogue-heavy production. In particular, actors Ian Leung, Ben Gorodetsky, Cayley Thomas and Graham Mothersill were on stage for almost the entirety of the play, with Cayley and Ben – in the roles of the defense and prosecution lawyers respectively – continually putting forth long, wordy arguments of their case.

However, this production would have had a lot more nuance and depth had there been microphones which could have picked up more subtle vocal tones and allowed us to focus more on the emotions behind what was being said. For example, I loved Nikki Shaffeeullah’s larger-than-life portrayal of St. Monica. Nikki’s mannerisms and unabashed “nagging” along with Guirgis’s great script brought St. Monica into the 21st century. Sure, St. Monica’s loud story-telling was amusing, but Nikki also allowed us to see beyond her tough-talking character and added depth to the play when she told us why she decided to appeal to God on Judas’s behalf. By taking a break from shouting and instead just talking to the audience, we gained our first glimpse at a more human side of Judas, which is what the production should be trying to show us if it wants to gain the audience’s sympathy. Another great example is Andrea Rankin’s portrayal of Mary Magdalene, whose gentler tones give a feeling of her – and, by implication, Jesus’s – love towards Judas, despite all that’s happened.

Despite my complaints about the shouting, another great aspect of this production that shines through was all the work vocal coach Elissa Weinzimmer and Assistant Vocal Coach Bobbi Goddard must have put into helping the actors perfect the fourteen (!!) dialects in the play – ranging from New Jersey to Egyptian accents. I’ve never seen a production incorporating so many different dialects, although it was fitting, given the locales and time periods the play’s characters crossed.

The Last Days of Judas Iscariotdirected by Simon Bloom, runs at the Timms Centre for the Arts from May 16 – 25 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $11 – $22.

This post has been reblogged from Sound + Noise

– Jenna Marynowski

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