Alexander Williams’ adaptation of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is now playing in Toronto
I was not prepared for Obsidian Theatre’s presentation of Judas Noir. From the buzz, I expected a great piece of theatre, but I could not know, going in, the brutal and haunting intensity of it. Leighton Alexander Williams’ adaptation of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot with BDB Productions is a work that hit me with such force, I was left and awe-stuck and trembling.
I saw Stephen Adly Guirgis’ original play several years ago and am not familiar enough with it to know precisely how much of the text remains, but the overall thrust of the plot and the major characters seem intact. In Purgatory, a court case unfolds for Jesus Christ’s infamous betrayer who has been damned to Hell for betraying the messiah and hanging himself.
A defining aspect of Guirgis’ play is its use of colloquial language and vivid characterizations to provide a contemporary context for biblical events, giving ample street cred to mystical happenings. Williams’ adaptation goes a step further, drawing a stark, devastatingly relevant parallel between the historic persecution of Jewish people and the current mistreatment of the Black community by our judicial system.
Williams also adds intimacy and urgency for a Toronto audience by alluding to the city and the local theatre scene. Masterfully executed, these touches never feel indulgent.
As witnesses take the stand, an examination of Judas’ character ensues. More deeply though, the testimonies—of a mother, friends, disciples, saints and Satan—reveal a volatile social and political climate where the greed and oppressive attitudes exposed are more than just talking points, they are weapons that cause immediate and long-lasting harm.
The entire cast wrings achingly honest humanity out of every character. Even the most unpleasant among them evoke significant empathy. And everyone here is bold and iconic—like Chelsea Russell’s gloriously flamboyant dancehall-queen Saint Monica.
Ryan Rosery is oddly endearing as the cocky, grandstanding prosecutor, El-Fayoumy. Underneath all his sleazy bluster, I could sense a more personal investment than his tiresome antics initially suggest. As the defence attorney, Fabiana Aziza Cunningham, Andrea Carter is like a breath of fresh air in the stifling, corrupt atmosphere of this Purgatory court. Her appeals to fairness and reason feel cool and calm amidst all the heated and hateful rhetoric. When her respectful facade finally breaks, revealing that she too has an axe to grind, it is a powerful shift.
In addition to directing his own adaptation, Leighton Alexander Williams plays the role of Satan here and, well, it’s quite a turn. Despite some physical ailment that hunches Lucifer’s body over a crutch as he takes the stand, he is a fierce, intimidating presence. His charm and wit are intensely seductive, but a false comfort in the face of his relentlessly vicious tongue. Whenever his gaze met mine, I cowered along with the characters in the court.
Judas Noir is many things and it manages all of them with impeccable style. It is brutal, full of the pain that comes from injustice and the resulting shame and anger. It is also funny, hopeful and full of vibrant, proud life. It even has some very sexy, breathtaking dance numbers.
Judas Noir is, above all else, urgent and vital. You should not miss it.
- Judas Noir is playing until October 20, 2018 at Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Carlaw Avenue).
- Shows run Monday through Saturday at 8:00pm, with a Saturday matinee at 2:00pm
- Tickets are $33.90 with $28.25 tickets available for Students/Arts Workers
- Tickets can be purchased online or by phone: 647.341.7390
Photo of Derick Agyemang by Cesar Ghisilieri