Disruption in art: DePaul Theatre School performs ‘The Last Days of Judas Iscariot’

Within the playbill for The Theatre School’s production of “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” Father Chris Robinson, theological advisor to the production, provides a brief history of the play’s titular figure. He also offers this keen piece of wisdom:

“At its very best, theology attempts to disrupt and interrupt,” he writes. “Great art, such as theatre, actually accomplishes this goal far more often than theology.”

“Judas Iscariot” does much to disrupt our preconceived notions, and ultimately leaves us questioning what we think we know about history. Through its clever narrative, the audience’s eyes are opened to the confusingly threaded nature of time, and the countless events that serve to disrupt our linear perception of it.

Central to the play is the “trial” of Judas Iscariot is the idea of Purgatory imagined as a physical place. Judas remains stuck here after committing suicide. He is left in a catatonic state and unable to speak for himself. As the play unfolds, we learn about the strange world Judas inhabits, where souls are bartered for, and people “live” long after they have died. As Saint Monica (played by Erica Murphy) explains, Purgatory is not unlike Brooklyn or Queens, with people living out their second lives as they wait for their ultimate fate to be decided. The production design reflects this urban vibe very well, from the music between set changes to the costumes.

From this protracted living arrangement in Purgatory, alliances form. There is a judicial system, run by none other than the man upstairs, and everyone has their own personality. The entirety of “Judas Iscariot” carries with it unmistakable postmodernist themes, portraying Purgatory as some kind of urban jungle. Saint Monica is a ghetto queen. Saints Peter and Matthew (Francesco Stornaiuolo and Denzel Irby, respectively) are leather punks. Some characters, like Mother Theresa (Erika Miranda) and Sigmund Freud (Casey Morris), remain true to their historical personas.

The characters most central to the play, though, are fictional. Judas’ defense attorney is the scrappy, determined Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Stephanie Andrea Barron), who spends much of her time calling “witnesses” to the stand. With a conglomerate of testimonies provided by the likes of Pontius Pilate (Denzel Irby), Caiaphas the Elder (Brian Rife) and even Satan (David Giannini) himself, this is where the play opens up into unexpected, sometimes hilarious territory. Giannini’s portrayal of Satan is a particular standout. After spending much of the first act seated two chairs down from me, Cunningham summons him to testify on Judas’s behalf. He comes off as equal parts fun drinking buddy and manipulative psychopath, allowing him to steal the handful of scenes that he appears in.

Surprisingly scarce throughout “Judas Iscariot” is Judas himself (played by Jason Goff), who is absent for much of his trial, appearing mostly in flashbacks from his childhood, or shortly before his betrayal of Jesus. These flashbacks are revealing and poignant, demonstrating how Judas himself had always been troubled in some way. It is in the final scenes where Judas is at his lowest point, and when the play reaches its emotional peak. From Jesus’s forgiveness of Judas, and a confrontation with a juror from his trial, we see that Judas’s infamous betrayal was perhaps inevitable, or even necessary, for the forgiveness of humanity as told in the Bible. This is where “Judas Iscariot” forces us to question what ultimately makes us human, and suggests that the answer lies in our flaws and inconsistencies.