23 October 2011

My Judas Iscariot weekend began...

...on Thursday night with a production at CCSU of Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and continued on Friday, Saturday, and today with a production of Godspell at the Newington Children's Theatre.   Both productions (the latter of which, as my frequent attendance should suggest, including my younger daughter in its cast) were well directed and acted, but I can only say that one of the scripts actually worked.

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is (unfortunately) a sophomoric look at the the role of Judas in the Passion.  He's put on trial in Purgatory to decide whether he is, essentially, the worst human being ever for his betrayal of Jesus.  The weaknesses of this show, however, were not the performances or the well-paced direction.  I loved Bryan Kopp's Judas, Keith Johnson's Judge Littlefield, Zack Heidorn's Butch Honeywell, and Jake Frey's Satan and many other of the cast members' portrayals.  It's the vast majority of the script that lets everyone down: cast and audience alike.

I simply don't want, for example, and can't imagine anyone really needing, as foul-mouthed a St. Monica as the script gives us (even as down to earth as Augustine's mother might have been in real life).  There is a nice Augustinian moment when Judas is shown that evil is not an entity in itself (a.k.a., Satan) but rather the absence of God, but it takes a long time -- and an awful lot of silliness (and that may be way too positive a term) -- to get through the trial.  Shame on Mother Theresa, for example, for not refusing donations to her missions from a dictator (Duvalier...or was it Noriega?  I can't remember now) and Charles Keating, a central figure in the late 1980s saving and loan scandal (and imagine trying to equate those two figures with a straight face)!  Most surprisingly, however, given the length of the play, is that there is no new insight offered into the Judas character or into the idea that maybe he was just doing what Jesus needed him to do, what Jesus wanted him to do.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Jesus Christ Superstar do this already...and didn't JCS do this better?

The only real redeeming script feature is the last 10-15 minutes when Butch Honeywell delivers his monologue about his wife and his infidelity.  THAT'S the play, ladies and gentlemen, right there.  All the trying-to-be-bleeping-metaphysical kerfuffle of the first two+ hours can be forgotten as a fleshed out character tells a heartfelt story of betrayal that can speak to an audience.

NCTC's Godspell, even with its new high school setting, offered no such problem.  The truly ensemble cast, all 12-16 year-olds, acquitted themselves and the songs with aplomb.  Well paced and executed, with fine musical direction, the production shows that a witty script with very good songs never goes out of style and can tell us much about human weakness -- and strength.  (And the young thespians showed how much more energy they have than their parents.)

"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"...indeed.

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