This eccentric work from the pen of Stephen Adly Guirgis is a loopy fantasia, bringing biblical and real-life characters from different eras together in a courtroom in purgatory, where Judas Iscariot, betrayer of Jesus Christ, is on trial. The iconoclastic script combines audacious burlesque humor with heady philosophical ruminations on life, death, and theology. Director Jeremy Aluma’s rendition benefits from striking visual imagery and several outstanding performances. The company achieves intermittent success in its effort to corral the playwright’s unwieldy tonal juxtapositions, which sometimes seem more indulgent than enlightening.
Aluma’s interpretation deftly mixes Guirgis’ poetic dialogue and flip wisecracks with the streetwise vernacular of contemporary Los Angeles, as characters such as the streetwalking Saint Monica (Lowam Eyasu) serve as witnesses. Presiding over a courtroom that is less kangaroo than just plain cuckoo is a judge (Tony Gatto) who wields power but shows little common sense. Butting heads are grandstanding defense attorney Yusef El-Fayoumy (hilariously played by Nick Mills) and hard-driving prosecutor Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Jessica Culaciati). Among the biblical characters are the near-catatonic Judas (the superb Vincent Mentry), Mary Magdalene (Shyla Marlin), Pontius Pilate (Paul Tully), Caiaphas (Adam Tsekhman), and Jesus (powerfully portrayed by Peter Weidman). Historical figures entering the fray are Sigmund Freud (a loony goofball in Amir Levi’s wry portrayal), and a confused Mother Teresa (Angie Light). Levi Sochet provides an uproarious turn as the sly and seductive Satan. Aaron DuPree is deeply moving as a jury member with his own cross to bear. The set design by Fred Kinney and Staci Walters, Jeff Brewer’s moody lighting, Cat Elrod’s costumes, and Adam Smith’s sound design are highly evocative.
The three-hour play, which premiered at New York’s LAByrinth Theatre in 2005, could use aggressive trimming. Aluma’s production occasionally sags during the verbose second act. Thankfully, the production boasts many stirring scenes, and the work poses timelessly urgent questions on the moral values we choose to hold and the disastrously flawed suppositions we sometimes make. – Les Spindle, Backstage West