Judas Iscariot: Worst friend ever or fall guy in a greater plan for the salvation of mankind? Stephen Adly Guirgis' "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" explores differing perspectives on the Christian canon's most reviled figure through the secular prism of a legal courtroom.
In Breedlove Productions' resurrected revival at the Hudson Backstage, a new director and tightened focus nicely balance Guirgis' edgy, irreverent humor and underlying seriousness of purpose while skirting most of the potential to bog down in doctrinal minutiae.
The story of Judas presents a worst-case scenario for the play's central theological conundrum: reconciling God's infinite unconditional love with the idea of unforgiving eternal damnation. Director Josh T. Ryan, a veteran of Zombie Joe's Underground, brings a welcome touch of the company's no-frills punk aesthetic to this surreal trial to determine the fate of post-suicidal Judas (Robert Walters, catatonic for most of the trial but capable of smoldering passion when needed).
Guirgis' talent for couching sophisticated ideas in pitch-perfect street dialect is well-served by a color-blind cast appearing as biblical and historical character witnesses, including Mary Magdalene (Dee Smith), Mother Teresa (Robin Michelle McClamb) and Keedar Whittle's electrifying Pontius Pilate. A hoodie-wearing Jesus (Cooper Daniels) and punk Satan (Marc Erickson) add surprise twists and higher stakes.
Anchoring the production, Robert Paterno's superb Egyptian prosecutor interweaves the comic and philosophical nuances in Guirgis' supple dialogue. Sarah Ruth Ryan lacks matching facility with the defense attorney, who's supposed to exude Irish feistiness (the opposing counsels' ethnicities are material, given Guirgis' Egyptian father and Irish American mother).
When it comes to verdicts, novelist William Gaddis once wrote, "You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law." The staging's powerful conclusion underscores our tragic disconnect between the two.
"The Last Days of Judas Iscariot," Hudson Backstage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Ends Aug. 24. $30. (323) 960-7738 or www.plays411.com/judas. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.