‘The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot’ Brings Courtroom Drama To The Next Level

The trial of Judas takes place Dec. 1-5
on the Muhlenberg Mainstage

Allentown, Pa. (Nov. 9, 2010) — When audiences arrive to see “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” they will be thrust into a “transformative world,” in which a courtroom in Purgatory has been conjured from an abandoned junior high school gymnasium.

“The show is a flashy romp through history – which happens to take place in Purgatory,” says Jenny Lerner ’11, who plays lawyer Fabiana Aziza Cunningham.

Director Beth Schachter describes the show as a “fascinating version of a courtroom drama.” Schachter is an associate professor of theater at Muhlenberg College and teaches classes in acting, directing, and the history and theory of theater. She is also the director of the College’s Women’s Studies Program. The play runs Dec. 1-5 in the College’s 100-seat Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance.

“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” by Stephen Adly Guirgis, takes place in the precinct of Hope, in downtown Purgatory. A trial has begun to determine the culpability of one of Western culture’s most notorious villains: the betrayer of Jesus himself, Judas Iscariot. A parade of famous and infamous figures takes the stand: Mother Theresa, Sigmund Freud, Satan, Pontius Pilate (who pleads the Fifth). They debate with the two lawyers, arguing their points with a ferocious combination of biblical metaphor and urban trash-talk.

“Guirgis has taken historical figures that presumably none of us have met before and made them interesting and funny – and actually very modern,” says Lerner. “Every character in the play is someone who doesn’t love themselves and feels that they are inadequate in some way. They are in Purgatory, but still grappling with issues from the past that are unresolved, and that is why they can’t move on.”

Guirgis’ scathing examination of faith, free will, and forgiveness explodes with unforgettable characters – cultural icons that appear not as figures in a storybook but as people trying to cope with the big questions, when no big answers are forthcoming.

 “The play is full of laughs and really interesting characters,” says Lerner. “But it also has deep heart and deep emotion and asks the question of how our actions affect us.”

Schacter says the combination of humor and challenging subject matter drew her into the play. She also likes that, while the play focuses on Judeo-Christian history and events, the themes are much broader.

“The play is less about particular sets of religious beliefs, practices, and history, and more about cultivating hope, faith, and the spirit of forgiveness,” Schachter says. “People who see this show have the opportunity to consider how necessary but painful forgiveness can be.”

Physical comedy plays a key role in this production of “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” Schachter says — although often in surprising ways. For example, there is a Keystone Kops–style scene with Roman soldiers and Judas that shifts suddenly and shockingly from slapstick to violence.

“The show seems to be very self aware of theatre conventions,” Lerner says. “And it plays with these conventions and bends the rules in many ways.”

Muhlenberg College is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa. The college offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. Princeton ranks Muhlenberg’s theater program sixth in the nation, and The Princeton Review and the Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.

“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” performances are Wednesday through Friday, Dec. 1-3, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 4, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 5, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under. Performances are in the Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. For mature audiences.

“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” performance information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or www.muhlenberg.edu/theatre/