By Steven Jackson
EDITOR IN CHIEF
“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” a student-run theater production, opens this weekend at C-Haus. The two-act play is presented by the Beloit Independent Theater Experience (BITE), a new theater club on campus this year.
The play is BITE’s first production. “It’s our very first, pioneer, maiden voyage,” said Joey Long ‘12, who co-directs the play with Al Kemp ‘13. For a first production, “Last Days” is an ambitious choice. The cast is 18 large, and the script has a running time of two and a half hours with intermission.
BITE held auditions for the play in early October. They had 25 people show up for 18 openings, an unusually high turnout compared to departmental theater productions. “That was the first sign that this was really going to work,” said Long.
“Last Days” was written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and first staged Off-Broadway under the direction of Philip Seymour Hoffman in 2005. It is a courtroom drama of sorts, set in purgatory. Jesus’ disciple Judas Iscariot is on trial, and his passage to heaven or hell depends on the verdict.
Flashbacks to childhood memories and the events surrounding Jesus’ betrayal are intermixed with testimonies from a diverse crew of witnesses. Sigmund Freud, Pontius Pilate, Mother Teresa and Satan are among those called to the stand.
The play is both a sharp satire riffing on religion, and a heavy drama dealing with themes of betrayal and redemption. Like most courtroom stories, the play is driven by dialogue; there are long stretches with little action. But it never gets stagnant or boring, thanks to smart dialogue and sharp performances from the actors.
A basement bar is an unusual place to stage a play, but it seems to be working. They’ve used the space well, incorporating the room’s layout and furniture into the stage direction. At one point there’s even an obligatory low ceiling slap, a la drunk dude at a Saturday night C-Haus show.
“Last Days” is a bare-bones production in many ways. The costumes aren’t flashy, and the set and props are understated. This lets the audience direct its attention where it’s due: the play’s wit and range of emotion. In one scene, a streetwise gangster version of Pontius Pilate is waxing machismo and calling Jesus a “Motherf*cker that talks a lot of sh*t.” Not much later, we hear a sad old man’s ashamed and sincere confession to Judas of past infidelities.
The players in BITE took a risk and aimed high with this production, and I’d say the result is right on point. See it at C-Haus at 8 p.m. this Friday or Saturday, or Wednesday, Dec. 14. BITE may schedule one or two additional showings, with exact times to be announced.