What Jesus Would Do: “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot”

Photo by Hub Theatre Company; Jesus (Jaime Hernandez) and Judas (Cristian Mancinas-Garcia)

Presented by Hub Theatre Company of Boston
By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Steven Bogart
Fight choreography by Matthew Dray
Dialect coaching by Charles Linshaw

Nov. 8 – 23, 2019
First Church Boston66 Marlborough St
Boston, MA
Hub Theatre on Facebook

Critique by Kitty Drexel

Trigger warnings: blasphemy, betrayal, cursing, portrayals of Satan, extreme Christianity

(Boston, MA) Stephen Adly Guirgis doesn’t give his audience answers in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. He gives them a question: does Judas belong in Hell for his actions against Jesus of Nazareth? Guirgis supplies an answer to this question but his answer is only one answer of many. It’s up to audience members to discern the answer that makes the most sense to them. 

I grew up Catholic in a household that considered the Church a cornerstone of its foundation. It was where my family learned to be better people in a world that glorified bad behavior for profit. It was a mostly positive influence for me (aside from the guilt). That is, it was until I grew old enough to question the church’s absolutist definitions of good and bad.  

When I hit my early teens, I started asking questions that the church’s leaders couldn’t provide fair answers to. Why was God male when God made all of us in God’s image? If we were made in God’s image, like Jesus, and we were all children of God, like Jesus, then why weren’t we all special like Jesus? If God gave us all free will then why did some priests use theirs to touch little boys? If God didn’t make mistakes, why were my gay friends going to Hell if God made them gay? Why couldn’t my cats go to Heaven? Heaven without cats sounded boring. It still does. Cats are the best. 

At 17, I realized that I was unsatisfied with my church’s answers because the church is comprised of fallible humans. The humans writing the rules of Catholicism were doing their best in their troubled times. Sometimes the church’s best is insufficient for a precocious teen with an overactive imagination. Sometimes an adult’s best sucks epic amounts of hose water. Sometimes there are no sufficiently acceptable answers to a question so religion reverts to controlling people with fear. Times are always troubled. By 25, I decided that it was okay for me to look for answers elsewhere.

The characters of Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, human or otherwise, are imperfect. They are living according to their beliefs in a world that makes having infinite beliefs difficult. Based on her belief that everyone is deserving of God’s perfect and glorious love, Fabiana Cunningham (Lauren Elias) has brought the case against Judas (Cristian Mancinas-Garcia) to retrial. In a heavenly court located in Hope, a town in Purgatory under the jurisdiction of Judge Littlefield (Robert Orzalli in a role that seems tailor-made for him), Cunningham reexamines the judgment placed on Judas. El Fayoumy (Maurice Palmer) is a brown-nosing, factual devil’s advocate. A course of characters from Judas’ mother (Liz Adams) to Sigmund Freud (Arthur Waldstein), even Satan (Victor Shopov) is questioned for a righteous, final verdict. 

Guirgis’ script tells more than it shows. Many of the monologues in this three and a half-hour show serve as exposition. Guirgis explains things in dialogue that should be a dramaturgy insert in our programs. In a moment of self-referential pedantry, Guirgis delivers Mother Theresa’s understanding of faith via monologue twice, the second time immediately after the first. Cast members Waldstein, Adams, and director Bogart’s staging make this back and forth funny. They know it’s silly to repeat something obvious. Guirgis assumes the audience knows nothing. If it weren’t funny it would be annoying.

Many of the monologues are this way too. Freud, being the father of psychoanalysis, explains his analytic theories before each point. It doesn’t matter that Freud’s principles have been disproven by modern psychology or that Guirgis’ play lacks a basic understanding of mental health practice; Freud represents science. It’s enough that science exists in Heaven. It apparently doesn’t have to be accurate too.     

Despite Guirgis’ lengthy verbosity, the performances in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is well performed. Palmer, Orzalli, Felton Sparks and Jon Vellante as various apostles. brought necessary levity to this morally heavy play. They were reliably comedic when the production threatened to fall under its own weight. 

Mancinas-Garcia and Jaime Hernandez found touching intimacy as Judas and Jesus. Their performance had us asking if Judas and Jesus were once lovers. Romantic love and spiritual love can feel so similar that it would be blasphemous not to consider the depth of the intimacy of their relationship. Could this is the reason Judas kissed Jesus at the moment of his betrayal? It offers a potential solution.  

Guirgis infers again and again in this play that a person puts themselves in Heaven, Hell or Purgatory by choice. We choose where we go, not based on our actions in life, but by continually choosing that location in death. God’s love is uncompromising, absolute. If Judas is in Hell, it’s because Judas put himself there. It’s the same for the characters in Purgatory: Cunningham, Judge Littlefield, El Fayoumy, and even the Dark Lord Satan (Victor Shopov) himself are where they are because they choose to be. God wants us to be in Heaven. Our souls would go there if we believed we deserved to go. 

I left the performance on Friday asking myself, “If Jesus died for our sins, did Judas go to Hell so we don’t have to?” I don’t know. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is no longer playing. It closed last weekend. The play isn’t meant to answer my questions. It’s meant to make us all consider our own answers while we’re still living. 

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