Judas Lands On an Elegant Answer
Lawrance Bernabo, Duluth News Tribune
October 3, 2013
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot uses a contemporary courtroom setting to address an almost 2,000-year-old question: Why did Judas Iscariot betray Jesus of Nazareth? But the answer this comedy-drama comes up with in the end is an almost elegantly simple one that most deep thinkers on the topic probably have never considered. This Stage 2 student production, directed by Alex Goebel, opens tonight in UMD’s Dudley Experimental Theatre.
Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, the play’s primary setting is a courtroom in Purgatory, a place betwixt Heaven and Hell where Pilate and pilates intersect. A catatonic Judas (Joe Cramer), incapable of speaking on his own behalf, is represented by Cunningham (Lauren Schulke), a lawyer with major anger issues.
The witnesses called to testify in this trial are the authority figures who condemned Jesus to death or 20th century “experts,” while the disciples who actually lived with both Jesus and Judas are largely reduced to providing their take on what happened outside the courtroom setting. Consequently, for most of the play Judas speaks indirectly, at best, in his defense, via flashbacks.
Several strikingly comedic figures command your attention in this play: Amanda Sjodahl’s streetwise St. Monica, Colleen Lafeber’s hard-of-hearing Mother Theresa, and James Goodman’s clear-eyed Satan.
But Guirgis strategically begins the drama with the testimony of Judas’s mother (Kristen Parizek), who sets the mood by reminding us that on the first Good Friday more than one mother lost her son, a speech that could be talking about Timothy McVeigh or Aaron Alexis or any one of a dozen other human faces of evil.
This play will certainly appeal not only to the comic sensibilities of college students, but also their inclination to challenge the conventional judgments of history. While there are some moments of outrageous humor, the play’s hear-a-pin-drop moment comes in Cunningham’s cross-examination of Caipahas the Elder (Ryan Fargo).
There are some acoustic issues because of the cavernous nature of the set and a particular creaking part of the stage. Accents abound with these characters, which in one case resulted in some repeated tripping over the tongue.
There is a point in the final scenes where Guirgis suddenly makes Cunningham the play’s pivotal character, and gives Schulke a motive for the high-octane anger — and sometimes rage — that fuels her cross-examination of the witnesses. But that struck me as being a diversion from the central question and something of a distraction.
But the playwright is setting up a qualitative progression with that explosive scene, which becomes clear in the ultimate confrontation between Judas and the man he betrayed. Guirgis provides his answer to the question and re-enacts a small moment from the Gospel, while Goebel has the final benediction play out to Mumford & Sons “I Gave You All.”
In the first Stage 2 production of the University of Minnesota Duluth’s new season, director Alex Goebel opens the season with “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” written by Stephen Adly Gurgis. “Judas” is a play set in a modern-day courtroom in Purgatory, a place between heaven and hell. During the play, one of the most traitorous people in history is put one trial for his crime; betraying Jesus Christ. In the end of Judas, it leaves the audience with insightful and quite fascinating opinions on whether Judas Iscariot should be condemned for his crime of betraying the Messiah, or praised for his actions and be sent to heaven.
To give their inputs on the betrayal of Jesus, the councilors call on the opinions of a sassy St. Monica (Amanda Sjodahl); the hipster-esque versions of the Apostles Simon (Danny Lewis,) St. Matthew (Lars Espe,) St. Thomas (Ryan Cooper,) St. Peter (Logan Halliday,) and Mary Magdalene (Erica VonBank); a bad-ass Pontius Pilate (Espe) who turns out to be quite a douchey-turned-nice-turned-douchey character; and, of course, Satan (James Goodman.) During the time of the testimonies, Judas Iscariot (played by Joe Cramer) is seen sitting completely catatonic, his only lines being when a flashback is taking place to describe a certain situation, and during a confrontation with Jesus (Thomas Matthews.)
To represent Judas, Cunningham (Lauren Schulke) has a dominating personality who won’t take anyones crap. She does, however, have moments of absolute panic and anger, which helps show that her character is not some lawyer stuck in Purgatory trying to make her way up to Heaven. On the other end of the spectrum is El-Fayoumy (Dylan Rugh) who is a complete over-achieving suck-up who has some of the greatest comedic spots in the performance.
The play begins with a testimony done by Henrietta Iscariot (Kristen Parizek) which tells the audience of her time burying Judas on Good Friday, after committing suicide. As the play continues, more and more reasons erupt to believe that Judas does deserve eternal damnation or that he should be given his wings and be forgiven. By the end of the play, the most amazing and well written scene occurs: the confrontation between Jesus and Judas. Not only is Gurgis’ dialogue genius for the scene, Goebel makes a very smart directorial choice by playing the song “I Gave You All” by Mumford & Sons in the background. If the dialogue of forgiveness and denial between Judas and Jesus don’t get you crying, the addition of the song absolutely will.
“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” is not only a genius play written by Gurgis, but a very well thought out play for Alex Goebel’s first directorial plays on Stage 2.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot opens the 2013-2014 season at University of Minnesota Duluth’s Stage 2. Written by Stephen Adly Gurgis The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a comedy-drama set in a modern-day courtroom set in Purgatory. The play tells the story of a court case determining the fate of Judas Iscariot (Joe Cramer) after he betrayed Jesus Christ and eventually committed suicide. The play leaves the viewer wondering if Judas made it to Heaven, went to Hell, or remained in Purgatory.
Unable to speak for himself, Judas is represented by Cunningham (Lauren Schulke), a lawyer with her own personal anger and emotional issues. Cunningham refused to give up but shows moments of panic as the play progressed. To oppose Cunningham is El-Fayoumy (Dylan Rugh), a suck-up in court yet he provides many of the comedic lines in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. Both Cunningham and El-Fayoumy bring fourth a varying range of historical figures to present testimonies through mostly through flashback and direct questioning. Including a streetwise Saint Monica (Amana Sjordahl), beanie and flannel wearing hipster versions of the Apostles Simon (Danny Lewis), Saint Matthew (Lars Espe), Saint Peter (Logan Halliday), Saint Thomas (Ryan Cooper), a punk-rock meets biker dude Pontious Pilate (Lars Espe), a manipulative, eerily clear-eyed Satan (James Goodman), Caipahas the Elder (Ryan Fargo, and a hard of hearing Mother Theresa (Colleen Lafeber).
Accents are relied on heavily for some of the characters in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot ,especially in the cases of Saint Monica and Pontious Pilate. At times is difficult to understand what these characters are saying and would sometimes lead to stumbling over words.
This play allows to viewer to question traditional judgments in history including the accuracies of what is written in sacred text. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot effectively accomplishes that all while presenting a serious matter in a more comedic light.
The intimate setting and placement of chairs makes the viewer feel like they are actually in a courtroom viewing the trial. It also makes scenes such as the final scene involving Judas and Jesus in which Jesus tries to plead with Judas for his attention seem deeper and more emotional.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a play by Stephen Adly Gurgis that depicts the struggle of figuring out whether Judas belongs in Heaven or Hell after how he betrayed Jesus and committed suicide. The Last days of Judas Iscariot showed this last weekend at the Dudley Experimental Theatre. The play is set in a courtroom in purgatory and was directed by Alex Goebel. Goebel put together a fantastic show that was extremely well suited to black box theatre that put the audience right there with the action. Goebel blended the transitions between scenes quite well and kept the movement of the show from getting dragged down with the slightly repetitive nature of the witness examinations. Goebel kept the ante up the entire show and left the audience on the edge of their seats waiting for the next witness to throw a new idea at us.
The plotline centered on Judas (Joe Cramer) who was left in a catatonic state after the realization of his deeds. Cramer portrayed the difficult role of Judas with such steady concentration and was completely un-phased by the action occurring around. This demonstration of focus alone proved extraordinary, not to mention that he had to bring out the diversity of the role when playing a child version of Judas and as a drunk adult. Cramer was a great Judas as he left you hating the character and yet feeling sorry for him.
The majority of the action took place with the defense attorney Cunningham (Lauren Schulke) who was trying to fight for Judas’s place in Heaven. Schulke was phenomenal as Cunningham. She had some great comedic moments, especially an incident involving a water glass, while she maintained a very powerful, yet highly controlled presence. As the play neared its end so did Cunningham’s control. Schulke portrayed a fantastically intimidating character while ending with an appropriately unstable basket case of a character who has reached her breaking point.
While Schulke’s Cunningham held a strong sense of control, her countering attorney of El-Fayoumy (Dylan Rugh) was anything but. The dynamic between Rugh and Schulke was hilarious and helped to lighten up the dark content of the show. Rugh’s portrayal of El-Fayoumy was supremely entertaining. He was a great suck up, a bit of a womanizer, and honestly the most relatable. Rugh played a ridiculously egotistical character with charming sincerity that left one questioning what exactly caused his character to end up in purgatory.
And then there was Satan. Satan (James Goodman) was undeniably the most unsettling character of the show. With clear blue eyes, Satan manages to unravel everything that was worked up to in the play, and left the audience with a chilling uncertainty. Goodman was absolutely chilling as Satan, and behind his calm, collected façade Goodman made sure the audience knew the true wrath and rage he was prepared to unleash. A rage that is very talented at toying with people. Goodman was startling one moment, and smooth as silk the next.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot was a great show overall. Some minor issues included a few fumbles in an attempt to speak a more intense line, and one or two of the lesser characters lacked the needed sincerity or intensity in their roles it seemed, but these issues were easily overlooked with the strong leads, spot on directing, and great performances by the ensemble as a whole. This was a show that brought the audience into action, and left them to ponder every question posed. The play was intense, and as one left the theatre they were forced to look at what occurred and think to themselves, what would they do in Judas’s place?
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
Courtney Bauer, Intro to Theatre Class
October 7, 2013
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, written by Stephen Adley Guirgus and directed by the University of Minnesota-Duluth's talented Alex Goebel, raised numerous questions of morality, controversy, and faith but most importantly the question: should Judas Iscariot (Joe Cramer) be condemned or forgiven for the betrayal of his good friend and the Messiah, Jesus Christ?
This Stage 2 production took place in UMD's Dudley Experimental Theatre and is set in a courtroom in Purgatory, hailed over by an honorable yet questionably dishonorable Judge (Ryan Fargo). Defending Judas, who is deemed incapable of representing himself, is the spitfire defense attorney, Cunningham (Lauren Schulke, who seems to have her own issues of the past that she needs to deal with. The prosecutor in the case is El-Fayoumy (Dylan Rugh) who brings forth many of the humorous lines of the play.
The production plays host to a whole line-up of various characters from Jesus' disciples to the ones who in fact condemned him to death. Many of these characters (although, not the ones who could actually defend Judas' fate) are called to the stand as witnesses in the trial. The psychology expert Sigmund Freud (Ryan Cooper) is even called upon as a consultant to discuss Judas' overall sanity. Freud's past as well as the morality of the hilariously comedic Mother Theresa (Colleen Lafeber) are questioned by the attorneys and viewers as their dark dealings in drugs and money are brought to light when they give their testaments. And of course what is a court trial in Purgatory without a visit from the one-and-only Satan (James Goodman), whose glazed- blue eyes appeared to be direct portals to the depths of Hell (especially when his anger was provoked in a firey rage of shouting).
Accents play a crucial role in the identity of the characters in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. There were a few words and lines tripped over here and there as actors tried to keep up the accents but this was only slightly noticeable. And throughout and verbal slip-ups, the cast never dropped their emotions or lost sight of the scene that they were so brilliantly portraying.
Goebel and the cast spectacularly portrayed this almost ancient, yet never forgotten, event in the history of Christianity and Judaism. The play digs deep into the viewers' emotions and pulls at the heart-strings, leaving the audience with tears in their eyes as Jesus of Nazareth makes his appearance to Judas at the end of the play.
With the audience being centimeters from the stage and so close to the actors, it brings the intensity and intimacy of the play to a whole new level that you simply cannot achieve in a large theater production. The costumes and lighting were portrayed and assembled precisely as to set a mood and bring you into the set not only as the audience, but also as a valued and important element of the show. One cannot help but feel like a juror in trial and ask themself, what fate does Judas deserve?
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot written by Stephen Adly Guirgis is set in a courtroom in Purgatory where the trial for Judas Iscariot (Joe Cramer) is held. Easily depicted by the well thought out set, Judas was either going to be joining Jesus Christ in Heaven or forever dwell in the fires of Hell. Sophomore Ryan Fargo portrays a southern push-over of a Judge who will decide the fate of Judas. Cunningham (Lauren Schulke) a spitfire and stubborn woman is the voice for Judas as his defense attorney fighting with all the grit she can to get him to Heaven. On the prosecution’s side we have El-Fayoumy (Dylan Rugh) who offers comic relief but also valid points in his persecution against Judas Iscariot.
The trial begins with a rather annoyed Judge when his bailiff (Danny Lewis) and Cunningham push for the Judas’ trial to be presented. Eventually Cunningham turns to rather sassy and nagging St. Monica (Amanda Sjodahl) who has her own way of getting what she wants from God. Cunningham returned to the Judge with a signature from God and the trial began.
Witnesses poured into the hot seat. Cunningham and El-Fayoumy go head-to-head in sometimes rather heated questioning with witnesses. Friends of Judas and also disciples of Jesus were called to the stand such as Simon who was also play by Lewis, and even St. Peter (Logan Halliday) himself whom God built his church upon came to testify for Judas. Other than Judas’ close friends there were some rather comical witnesses who you wouldn’t expect such as Sigmund Freud (Ryan Cooper) whose testament was disregarded by Rugh due to the many years of substance abuse with cocaine. Mother Theresa (Colleen Lafeber) makes a hard of hearing appearance when even her morals are questioned by Schulke.
Amongst the many religious testimonies there were also the men who condemned Jesus in the first place. A mob boss portrayal of Pontius Pilate (Lars Espe) and High Priest Caiaphas also played by Fargo were taking no blame in Judas’ decision on betraying Jesus Christ. Of course when your fate is either Heaven of Hell, Satan has to come in the mix somewhere. Satan was played by James Goodman who had the audience clutching the sides of their seats with anger and frustration.
Guirgis takes this timeless story to a whole new level with his wordy yet thought-provoking script. He strategically laid out a trial for Judas, but he also made sure that the whole show was not all about him. He questions Cunningham’s motives in this trial when she even admits that she doesn’t even know if there is a God having been stuck in Purgatory for as long as she can remember. By the end it is left up to interpretation on whether Judas was sentenced to the pits of hell with Satan, forever stuck in Purgatory, or was he forgiven and now sits with Jesus in Heaven.
Costume designer Brian Saice took on a contemporary look for this over 2,000 year old story. His costumes not only brought this show to life but brought the characters to life. With a suited up icy blue-eyed Satan he came off more as an evil businessman than the red horned devil image many have. St. Monica was all blinged out with jewelry and leather which added to her street smart attitude.
Alex Goebel has out done himself for his first directorial debut! He really took the time to dive into the script and bring out those moments of tension and where morality is questioned. Alex played around with a lot of contemporary choices such as the music he played throughout the show. Even if it wasn’t the whole song like “Video Games” by Lana Del Rey, just the instrumentals from that song added emotion to the scene bringing it just one step further. Goebel has brought this biblical story to life and will now be engrained in Stage 2 Theatre Company’s repertoire.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
Zack Barth, Theatre 1001
October 8, 2013
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a thrilling religious court case that keeps the audience on their feet. Written by Stephen Adley Guirgus and directed by Alex Goebel, the play involves the prosecution of Judas Iscariot: Jesus’ Disciple. The play takes place in what can be perceived as a modern day purgatory. Judas is being tried for his crime for betraying Jesus Christ and turning him into the Romans. His defense attorney is Cunningham, a stern female lawyer who is determined to prove Judas’ innocence. Her opposition and prosecution is the cunning and witty El-Fayoumy. The two battle back and forth against one another in a verbal showdown with numerous witnesses caught in between. Lauren Schulke and Dylan Rugh, defense and prosecutor respectively, feed off each other producing moments of great humor. The play was divided into two acts with a smooth transition. Due to the seating in Dudley Experimental Theater, some areas in the play were difficult to see. Getting a higher seat in the back or in the front is recommended.
The casting for the play was done especially well and the performance was sold out. Schulke had moments of great anger and harnessed her nerves in the form of great acting. Her volume at times was over the top and took away from the message that was being portrayed. This may have been intended or could have been the vision the director had, but ultimately took away from her character. Her opponent on the other hand, Rugh, was humorous yet serious. He utilized his opponent’s openings and creating great relief when the play started to become heavy. His character had an accent that is still unknown, but was a beautiful touch that complemented him well. The persona that stood out the most was Satan. Played by James Goodman, Satan captured the pure essence of evil. Portrayed as a businessman, Satan was proper and kept his temper. Equipped with white contacts, his appearance was demonic in nature. Goodman was able to keep a gentleman smile but at the same time strike fear into anyone he came in contact with.
Overall the play had moments of great drama and humor, while still bringing everything there is to love about a good court room drama case. The stage in which the play was produced on could have been better due to the lack of vision at times but was still stunning. There were moments in the play where the audience was so shocked by what had happened a pin could be heard hitting the floor. Much credit can be given to the actors for taking on such enormous roles. Judas Iscariot, who was played by Joe Cramer, managed to sit on a pedestal for the entire length of the production without moving a muscle. The dedication and discipline shown by this was impeccable. His final moments at the end of the play gave chills and a standing ovation.
There is a thing to be said about so-called “controversial” theatre. They are the risky plays, performed by the actors who are willing to take that very risk of putting on a performance that could either make them or break them, depending on the audience that sees the play. These “controversial” plays bend the rules on how plays should be, yet they do so in a way without breaking them entirely, instead trying to pry open that tiny open crevice inside our brain that let’s new ideas creep their way inside, gnawing at the very parts of our brains that make us rethink everything we thought we knew. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, written by Stephan Adly Guirgis, directed by Alex Goebel, and performed by UMD Stage 2 is the play that does just that.
We all know the tragic tale of Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus of Nazareth and ratted him out for 30 pieces of silver, then tried to give it back out of remorse over what he had done. In the end, Judas was not recanted and he hung himself out of guilt. He is considered the lowest of the low in Biblical history, forever residing in the 9th Circle of Hell because he deserved it. Sometimes, however, it takes someone to go to bat for you, no matter how misguided they originally seem, to make people see the story a bit differently and ask a simple question: why? Why did Judas betray Jesus of Nazareth? And what does he feel about it 2,000 years later?
In his withdrawn state and completely unable to speak for himself, Judas (Joe Cramer) is represented by a Cunningham (Lauren Schulke), a lawyer with very, very severe anger issues, in a Purgatorian court. Several appearances are made throughout the play, such as the definitely hard-of-hearing Mother Teresa (Colleen Lafeber), Saint Mary Magdalene (Erica VonBank) and the bad-ass Saint Monica (Amanda Sjodahl), St. Thomas and St. Peter (Ryan Cooper and Logan Halliday), Sigmund Freud (Cooper), and Judas’ own mother, Henrietta Iscariot (Amanda Sjodahl). A witty yet highly-hormonal El-Fayoumy (Dylan Rugh) countered the case, creating the angst needed between himself and Cunningham as drama filled the courtroom floor with each and every witness.
Several performers topped the rest, including Caiaphas the Elder (Ryan Fargo), Pontius Pilate (Lars Espe), and Satan himself (James Goodman). Fargo and Espe excelled in their roles, creating the religious tension and fueling Schulke’s anger and own religious confusion. Goodman stole the show, showing off his Satanic-anger and his “Buddha on a lily-pad” moments, making Schulke and the entire audience question any remaining untouched religious belief we had, especially if we should have any at all. Throughout Schulke’s frequent outbursts of rage in not wanting to believe what Goodman appeared as the truth, Goodman stayed calm, simply stating the facts that were almost unbearable to hear.
This is the thing about religion: no one wants to face the truth because we don’t know what truth is. So we rely on faith, but not all of us can. Cramer tried shoo-ing Jesus (Thomas Matthes) away, but instead stayed by Matthes washed Cramer’s feet, showing that Jesus loves even the lowest of the low in the best possible way, even if they refuse to believe it. This play is a play of the times, especially in today’s world, with issues of religion sprouting up in nearly every conflict, because everyone wants to believe what they believe, and no one is going to change that…
There are, however, exceptions to this belief. Goebel once said that this play is the kind of play that should end up with a different audience leaving the theatre than the audience that came in at the start. Goebel should give himself several pats on the back—and so should the actors—because even with minor issues with sound and tripped-up words and lines because of the various accents used by the characters, this was a play that made people think about the way people view themselves and what they believed to be their own morals. He made the audience think about the difference of right and wrong, and if Judas really did deserve to suffer in hell or if he was there on his own free will and suffering for no reason other than his own stubbornness. Goebel met his goal in the highest way possible, and nothing could beat the look of pride on his face at the end of the performance, because he knew that he just witnessed 50+ minds being blown wide open, and that is something no one can ever take away from him.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
Intro to Theatre Class
October 8, 2013
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot keeps the audience thinking and there is always something new behind every corner. It was written by Stephen Adley Guirgus and was directed by a student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Alex Goebel. It takes place in purgatory, the area between heaven and hell, and involves a man named Judas Iscariot (Joe Cramer). Judas is put on trial for turning the Messiah into the Romans all whilst betraying him. Whilst the defense attorney Cunningham (Lauren Schulke) was very angered, emotional, and serious, the prosecuting attorney, El-Fayoumy (Dylan Rugh), was able to uplift the spirits of the audience with his very humorous remarks. This play took place at the University and was performed in the Dudley Experimental Theatre, a very unique theatre. The audience sits on both sides while the play is performed in the middle. However, some of the actions performed were difficult to see so sitting in the front is preferred. And what was the fate of Judas Iscariot you might ask? That was left for the audience to decide, a very clever technique to conclude a play.
Many witnesses were brought in to either defend or reject Cunningham’s arguments. The witnesses included religious figures like Satan (James Goodman), St. Monica (Amanda Sjodahl), and Mother Theresa (Colleen Lafebar) and friends of Iscariot’s like Matthias (Logan Halliday) and Simon (Danny Lewis). And with each new witness the emotions would change and the moods would shift. When Schulke cross-examined the witnesses she did so in a way that almost distracted the audience from the points she was trying to get across. It was, what seemed like, a never-ending yelling streak that left many with headaches and ear ringing. On the other hand, Rugh gave the crowd a break with his witty comments, lively attitude, and charming accent. He would question the witnesses in a very solemn way while using humor to lighten the mood of the audience.
As witnesses were brought in, the play would, once in a while, come to a halt. During this halt, scenes would be reenacted from Judas’ life, whether it was during childhood or adulthood that would show us more about his acts and give us more insight into whether this man should be found guilty. Whilst Cramer was not reenacting scenes from Judas’ life, he remained in the back of the Dudley Theatre. He sat on blocks of wood the entire duration of the play, except when needed, in the same position. This position was a sort of crouched position with elbows on knees. The only movements out of him during that time were blinking and the chest compressions when he inhaled and exhaled.
Overall, Goebel did a magnificent job with the directing of his first play and casting the crew members with the time, space, and money he was given! Everyone was able to “pull off” their parts so to speak. Everyone looked how their characters were supposed to be perceived. Because of the wonderful job everyone did, the cast and crew members deserved a standing ovation….and that is what they received.
Never before have I been to a play as enthralling and engaging as UMD's Stage 2 production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. Thanks to the brilliance of the script, the support from the design aspects, and the fabulous actors, this play was truly amazing.
Firstly, the script itself was well written. The playwright, Stephen Adly Guirgis, uses the story of Judas Iscariot to make his audiences contemplate betrayal and remorse. One of the characteristics that makes the play such a success, however, is the way that Guirgis inserts moments of comedy in-between the profound themes he presents. Guirgis uses this comedy to keep the attention of the audience long enough to express the main ideas of the play. Guirgis also brings a new perspective on classic characters that have only been seen as either good or bad. He portrayed Saint Monica as a foul mouthed, street smart woman who still shows compassion and warmth when she feels it's deserved. Pontius Pilate, St. Matthew, St. Thomas, St. Peter, and even Mother Theresa are all exposed as more modern versions of the historic characters, making the play much more relatable for the present day audience.
The technical elements of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot also helped to make the show great, as they always do in any show. For instance, the lighting designer, Michael Cochrane, used plain clear light bulbs hanging from the ceiling to create a modern, but dilapidated atmosphere. Later in the show, one of the dangling lights was pulled down to make a lamp above an interrogation table, which greatly added to the scene. Also, the costumes worn by the actors were simple, but they matched the characters who wore them to exemplify their personalities and characteristics. The wings of Gloria and the demonic eyes of Satan also created detail specific to the character. Most importantly, the stage was dominated by a large painted window. The gothic stained glass window displayed different religious symbols and words like "Hello?" The window created an almost eerie mood. It definitely reminded one of a church, and thus religion.
The actors were the most important aspect of Last Days of Judas Iscariot. Every single actor who performed in this show played their characters perfectly. Dylan Rugh played El-Fayoumy, the "lawyer" opposing Judas, and brought most of the play's comedy. He never flubbed a joke or broke character, even when the theater was roaring with laughter. Rugh assumed his character flawlessly even in the serious points of the play, and he constantly kept the up the façade of El-Fayoumy while not being the center of attention. Lauren Schulke also performed with the highest of caliber. Her character, the aptly named cunning Cunningham, was persistent and stubborn enough to argue with even Satan. Schulke opened completely up to her character and everything she did fit persona of Cunningham perfectly. She used the kinds of gestures and tone that a lawyer would use, and displayed her emotions in a completely believable manner. Amanda Sjodahl, who played Saint Monica, brought a brand new view of the beloved saint to the stage. Stated bluntly and truly, she became a badass. I'm pretty sure that no one has ever portrayed Saint Monica as an obscene, outspoken, and outrageously tough woman, but Sjodahl did it masterfully. It is difficult to transition from being rash and salacious to loving and kind. Sjodahl shifted between the lewd and tender sides of Saint Monica with precision and skill.
Judas Displays Talent at the University of Minnesota-Duluth
October 8, 2013
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, a production by UMD’s Stage 2 Theatre Company, tells a story of a court case over the fate of the bible’s most infamous traitor, Judas Iscariot. According to Alex Goebel, the play’s director, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ script does not discriminate, but instead, presents both sides of each argument. The play appeared to display a satisfying balance between comedy and drama. It may be quick to assume that this play was tremendously controversial, but it was a satisfying representation of artistic collaboration by talented UMD students who made up the cast and crew.
Each of the actors in this cast fit this production like a puzzle piece. The competing lawyers of the case included an aggressive and desensitized New Yorker named Cunningham who was played by the brilliant Lauren Schulke. Opposing Judas was charmingly handsome and comedic El-Fayoumy, or as the Judge (Ryan Fargo) called him “El-Fajita”, played by Dylan Rugh. While Rugh was irresistibly funny, he also managed to keep a straight face when the audience was bursting with laughter. Schulke outperformed herself when she displayed Cunningham’s most intense moment during Satan’s (James Goodman) testimonial, which then led into Satan’s own act of rage upon the Judge. Other witnesses in Judas’ case included Mother Teresa played by Colleen Lafeber, Saint Monica played by Amanda Sjodahl, Caiaphas played by Ryan Fargo, Sigmund Freud played by Ryan Cooper, Matthias played by Logan Halliday, and Simon played by Danny Lewis.
Although most of the makeup and costuming designed by Brian Saice was kept fairly simple, each personality was represented accordingly. Perhaps this worked ideally for the cast and crew of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot because about half of the cast played two roles. This factor greatly demonstrated the talent of these young UMD actors.
The set (designed by Heather Olson) within the Dudley Experimental Theatre created a personal atmosphere, which seemed to work well for the cast members with Goebel’s direction. For example, Saint Monica (Sjodahl) stood on a raised platform and delivered her sassy and charismatic dialogue into the left-side audience. Cunningham (Schulke) sat with the right-side audience until the delivery of her first line. Both instances created an environment more similar to an actual court case and less of a play production.
The contemporary courtroom set of Judas seemed to make the plays’ content more relatable to a college-aged audience, and was suitable even for those who are not necessarily religious. This production could have been enjoyed by a wide variety of audience, except for children as there was a strong language content (but this did not take away from the plot itself).
Goebel’s end scene that left with Jesus and Judas to the song “I Gave You All” by Mumford & Sons, ingeniously wrapped up this masterpiece. He directed an excellent show, but not without the help of all the talented artists that made up this production’s directors, design team, production crew, and actors. The tale left the audience with bursts of laughter, but also reached into thoughts of their own morals.
UMD Stage 2’s production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, directed by UMD senior Alex Goebel, opened on Thursday, October 3rd. The play is a courtroom drama, set in purgatory, about the trial determining whether Judas Iscariot should be in heaven or hell regarding his betrayal of Jesus Christ. The lawyers involved call in a number of witnesses from throughout history, some from Judas’ time and some important historical figures from other times.
The play’s main goal seems to be to call to attention some perspectives on the story of Judas Iscariot people have perhaps not thought of before. The characters called in as witnesses were not only characters from the Bible, but historical figures like Mother Theresa and Sigmund Freud. Cunningham, the lawyer representing Judas, brought to light some perspectives on Mother Theresa that do not usually fit most people’s idea of her. Cunningham accused Mother Theresa of being a sinner because she accepted money from sinners.
The actors all did exceptionally well, especially considering the extremely short amount of time they had to prepare the performance. Lauren Schulke delivered an emotion-rich performance. Schulke really got into her character; her anger and sadness came across very genuine, especially at the climax of the play when she started to lose it on Satan, screaming and eventually going back to her seat to cry. The delivery of her performance was spot-on in her last scene. Dylan Rugh, as El-Fayoumy, was a light, funny character, in good contrast to his more serious competitor Cunningham. Rugh did a wonderful job of portraying the flirty, high-energy character with his quick accent, sweeping gestures and hopping around, though sometimes the accent seemed to be a hindrance to clearly getting his lines across. One of the most interesting characters was Amanda Sjodahl’s St. Monica. Sjodahl was loud and sassy, and so much fun to watch. Another riveting character was James Goodman as Satan. His chilling, icy-blue eyes and charismatic smile well embodied the devious character of Satan. Goodman’s transformation from charm to enragement in the scene where he discovered some of his souls were missing was amazing, yet frightening. Colleen Lafeber played two extremely different characters, snarky angel Gloria and kind, yet extremely hard-of-hearing, Mother Theresa. She played her differently-accented characters equally well, and equally humorously.
In a smaller stage setting such as the Dudley Experimental Theater, actors must really use facial expressions to get their point across, as almost everyone has a close-up view of their faces. A more intimate audience also allows for more subtle facial expressions, as seen in Cunningham’s many eye rolls or Satan’s eyebrow wagging. During long, dramatic pauses, each character displayed a range of emotion on their faces reacting to another character’s line. The range of emotions was especially noticeable in the last scenes, where there were many pauses in between Satan’s cutting remarks and Cunningham’s increasing inability to answer. The small stage and intimate audience, and the placement of the seats on either side of the stage, made for a feeling of actually being in a courtroom, perhaps even being a part of the jury. The cast would make eye contact with, or even ask questions of, the audience, increasing the atmosphere of being a part of the case.
The production was accompanied by music numbers. The music, in most cases, added to the scene or made the scene feel more dramatic, but at times the music felt a bit too loud and made some lines hard to hear. The final music score by Mumford and Sons during the last scene was a perfect addition to the scene, adding to the impact and overall intensity of the scene.
Besides the minor issues like tripping over lines at some points or loud creaking of the set, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot was a phenomenal play, especially impressive due to the short time the actors and director had to prepare the production.
The courtroom drama is a familiar genre for scores of today’s TV audiences. Audiences tune in week after week to the latest episode of Law and Order for all the action and suspense inherent in this style of television. However, it is rare to see this brand of storytelling brought to the stage, and rarer still for the defendant to be one of the most well-known Biblical traitors. Such is the premise for The Last Days of Judas Iscariot which was brought to Duluth audiences by Stage II Theatre Company in the Dudley Experimental Theater.
The scene opens on a very minimalistic set-- only a couple sparse platforms, tables and chairs, dominated by a large stained-glass window as the background, rendered in graffiti. This very basic setup allows the focus to be drawn in on the true showcase of this production, the characters. The judge, attorneys, and witnesses that move throughout these set pieces are the ones who present the true story.
Principally among these players is the character of Cunningham, a defense attorney played by Lauren Schulke arguing on behalf of the antagonist, Judas Iscariot, played by Joe Cramer. Schulke’s portrayal of Cunningham is an intense experience; her anger and grief as she moves between confidence and complete emotional breakdown are brilliantly rendered by Schulke, who really throws herself into every line of the role. Her fieriness is countered by her flirtatious and flattering adversary, El-Fayoumy, who is portrayed here by Dylan Rugh, and acts as a comedic relief character throughout some of the darker and more intense moments of the show. In spite of the overall dark tone of the production, there are definitely a fair share of laughs worked in, and Rugh does his part to supply those.
Witnesses in the case include such characters as Mother Theresa, played by Colleen Lafeber, Sigmund Freud, played by Ryan Cooper, and Satan, brought to life by James Goodman. In the first act, Goodman’s Satan is suave, collected, and even downright flirtatious, reminiscent of Rugh’s El-Fayoumy, who originally called him forward as a witness. But when he returns in Act Two, brought forth this time by Cunningham, he is unhinged and downright terrifying. These two sides of the character, and Goodman’s ability to portray both so well, make the character and the audience’s interpretation of him especially fascinating, and raises a number of theological questions as to the true nature of Satan, Hell, and damnation. These questions persist throughout the entirety of the production, often raising intense frustration throughout the cast of characters.
The ending of this production is vague at best, with more than one character experiencing faith-shaking revelations, but with little actually changing in the grand scheme of things. There is no clear outcome of verdict of the case, aside from a tear-jerking scene between Judas, portrayed by Joe Cramer, who up until this point has been more or less silent throughout his own case, and Jesus, portrayed by Thomas Matthes. It is one of the most memorable and emotional exchanges in the show, but what it achieves is left purely up to the audience to decide.
Overall, the whole show is compelling and interesting, with a cast of engaging characters portrayed by actors who present their emotional turmoil in a very real way. The audience may leave with a number of theological questions or a tear in their eye, and varying opinions as to what Judas Iscariot may deserve, but it is definitely worth the experience.
UMD’s Stage 2 Theatre Company opened their 2013 season with the production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. The play was written by Stephen Adley Guirgus, and directed by Alex Goebel. It is a not so standard courtroom drama centered on well-known historical and biblical figures. The production is set in purgatory’s downtown courthouse. Judas Iscariot (Joe Cramer) has been placed on trial to determine whether he shall reside in heaven or hell for his actions pertaining to the death of Christ.
Due to Judas’s mental instability, his present self remains locked in a self-induced unresponsive state. In his stead, Fabiana Cunningham (Lauren Schulke), an aggressive female lawyer, presents his case. Opposing Cunningham is the eccentric Egyptian lawyer Yusef El-Fayoumy (Dylan Rugh). As a direct consequence of the two lawyers battling it out, by calling and examining witnesses, Judas’s life is revealed through a series of flash backs.
These flash backs show the malleability of Cramer’s acting abilities. Cramer is able to portray these different periods of time with appropriate emotional responses. His acting is done in such a way that audiences are drawn into the character making it seem as if Cramer was Judas himself. The most humorous example of this is when Cramer portrays Judas as a child. Cramer is able to create an air of awkward childlike behavior that is often attributed to pre-teen children: his voice rockets up two octaves, his manner is extraordinarily innocent, and his interaction with fellow actor Logan Halliday, here a child acquaintance named Matthias, makes the scene believable; even when both Cramer and Halliday are clearly grown men.
With each successive return to the present, the court room becomes more and more chaotic as Cunningham becomes less and less professional. By the end of the play, Cunningham is outright screaming in her attempt to convince the jury that Judas is innocent. Schulke’s interpretation and portrayal of Cunningham appears as if it may be a bit over the top. Schulke’s character was difficult to believe; in that the progression of emotional savagery was a bit fast paced and somewhat strong. After her dramatic scene with Satan (James Goodman), Schulke began to launch gratuitous amounts of saliva from her mouth when speaking. This may have been Goebel’s choice or Schulke’s interpretation of the characters wroth, but either way it appeared as if Schulke may have been over acting.
Speaking of Satan, Goodman did, what can be seen as, a fantastic job in his portrayal of the role. Goodman was able to radiate arrogance, cunning, savargery, and hatred while keeping a devious and sinister smile. His very manner and body language were convincing enough to bring into question his true character. It is hard to imagine Goodman as anything else but arrogant outside of theater because that’s how convincing he was in his role. In Satan’s first scene El-Fayoumy, asks him if he ever spoke with Judas and if he’d care to share the experience. As Satan responds, the audience is brought into a flashback where we see Satan and Judas in a bar. Judas is widely drunk and confesses his actions, pertaining to his betrayal of Jesus, to Lucifer. Satan, in turn, gives advice to Judas that drives him to question his action, but it is done in such a way that it clearly torments Judas’ mind. Goodman was able to do this scene lucidly; he portrayed every action as if he held Judas’ fate within his palm and could do whatever he wanted with it whenever he wanted to. In Satan’s final scene he destroys Cunningham’s and El-Fayoumy’s sanity by revealing their inner character flaws.
El-Fayoumy being a comical character throughout the play appears to be destroyed by Satan’s final comments on his person character and penis size. It is as if El-Fayoumy is an animal that has been broken in by a cruel master. In the last scenes, Rugh is able to echo El-Fayoumy’s inner struggle to the audience considerably well and gives a seemly splendid performance throughout the play. It is clear that Rugh was not really meant for the role; he trips a bit over his somewhat forced accent. Rugh’s role served as the center of hilarity for the majority of the performance and he does it as much justice as a non-Egyptian could.
The play ends with Judas rejecting the Holy Spirit (Thomas Matthes), and no judgment on where he shall spend the rest of eternity. All in all the production was quite enjoyable. A few of the actors had problems with their lines, but the majority of the performance went smoothly. The cast and crew did an excellent job and even achieved a standing ovation. This play is a must see for any college students with open minds and open hearts.
University of Minnesota Duluth hosted the Last Days of Judas Iscariot on their campus which was written by Stephen Adly Gurgis and directed by Alex Goebel. Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a comedy drama which tells a story about Judas and deciding his ultimate fate upon whether he is guilty due to Earthly duty or moral obligation. While the attorney has battled to get the case heard by the judge, there have been many witnesses called to either testify for or against him throughout the play.
A man’s character is defined by his actions and Judas’s was defined by his betrayal towards god. In the beginning of the play, the judge and his bailiff were going through many cases to the one that seems appealing to him. There was a case about Judas that he wasn’t too fond of, but Cunningham (Attorney) had pushed and argued her way through to have the case presented for trial. As the play goes on, many witnesses were called to the stand to being interrogated and also to give their side of the story and relationship with Judas. There were witnesses that were close with Judas and some that you didn’t even think would be a witness. As each witness is being called up, there were flashback memories to Judas’s childhood. Since the trial happen in present day, many of characters reflect on today’s society and how manner and behavior effects people of today. Overall, Judas was already determined to be in hell due to the fact that he hung himself and suicide is indeed a sin.
Pontius and Satan’s persuasive testimony denied Judas from being allowed in heaven. Not only that, but Jesus was understanding and forgiving towards Judas, but Judas had gave up and stopped listening to him. Judas thought it was too late and all the damaged has been done so he did what he felt he needed to do. I enjoyed the play. It was full of drama and comedy which are my two favorite genres, but for the actual court case, it was a waste of time because Judas fate has always been in his own hands, it was only a matter of time to Judas to decide on what he wanted to do with it. I believe Judas did know right from wrong and knew what he was doing the whole time. Even though he was a little persuaded at the bar from Satan (even though he did not know it was Satan), I believe he thought it was something he deserved due to him ignoring god.
Overall, this was a wonderful play. I love the concept and enjoyed how they took a story from long ago and turned it into modern day. It was very entertaining between difference characters and arguments that were happening. My favorite character has to been between Cunningham, Mother Theresa, and Saint Mary. They have played their roles well and maintained to stay in character the whole time. I would give this play a 9/10.
This page contains a single entry by Mark Harvey published on October 3, 2013 10:48 AM.
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