A great work of art is one that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways by a broad spectrum of people while resonating something (a theme, if you will) universal and timeless.
Such is the nature of Steven Adly Guirgis' play, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” Richmond Triangle Players and Henley Street Theatre Company's co-produced entry in this year's Acts of Faith Festival. “This play is going to be thought-provoking and even shocking,” says Alex Evans, the pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, the founding entity of festival. The play will be shocking not just because of the strong urban vernacular but also the unconventional ideas it presents. Evans also will lead a talk-back session March 13.
In the play, Judas Iscariot, known throughout history as the betrayer of Jesus, is on trial in a gritty city-type purgatory. People such as Mother Teresa, Pontius Pilate, Sigmund Freud, St. Monica and even Satan take the witness stand and are demystified by playwright Guirgis.
“I have wanted to produce this play ever since I first read it,” says James Ricks, Henley Street's artistic director. “It poses some pretty urgent questions about the moral values we choose without ever getting too pious.” Commenting on Guirgis' tactic of equalizing the characters, the play's director Bo Wilson says, “What is important is how it humanizes characters that are traditionally so revered ... [this play] reminds us that these people are human beings facing human difficulties.”
Another concept Guirgis explores is the possibility that Judas was really a good guy who was asked to do a dirty job. That is why Dr. Jim Brashler, a retired professor of Bible and theology from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, is participating in the talk-back session. Brashler is an expert in the field, having consulted Marv Meyer on the translation of “The Gospel of Judas,” which suggests that Judas was Jesus' favorite and most trusted disciple and therefore tapped by Jesus to reveal him to the Romans. The play hints that the action of the betrayal is a good thing. “[Guirgis does] the same thing in the 21st century that the agnostics did in the first century,” Brashler says.
Evans sums up why he thinks “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” is the centerpiece of the Acts of Faith Festival this year: “[It] is building energy over the interfaith community involved, encouraging thoughtful discussion about important things like faith, life, community and purpose. ... The play allows us to see God's love and grace in all kinds of unexpected ways which is what I think God is about.” S
“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” is produced by Henley Street Theatre Company and Richmond Triangle Players and runs on selected dates through March 19 at Richmond Triangle Players, 1300 Altamont Ave. The talk-back session is scheduled for March 13 at 2 p.m. For tickets and information, go to henleystreettheatre.org or call 340-0115.