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Last Days of Last Days of Judas

13 Apr 2009

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one.  Pontius Pilate, Jesus and a couple of soldiers walk into a fermenting cellar…

Sound familiar?  Try this.  Fifteen phenomenal actors walk into a rehearsal hall to remount Birdland Theatre’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.  The first production won 5 Dora Mavor Moore Awards (including "Outstanding Production", "Outstanding Direction", "Outstanding Performance by a Female", "Outstanding Performance by a Male", and "Outstanding Lighting Design") and the second only builds on that success.

Last Days recounts the trial of Judas Iscariot, prosecuted for the betrayal of Jesus in a long-forgotten corner of purgatory – Hope.  The language and rhythm taste like New York, where the play originated, but the themes stand outside of time and place, even when the two are palpable.  The tone of the play would be less at home underscored by angelic choirs than by bassy boomboxes and the sound of dice hitting the stoop.  The stone walls of the Fermenting Cellar do their part to keep your head in the game.   In this atmosphere, what appears to be irreverence is actually a deeper examination of the nature of good, evil, and forgiveness than you’ll get in most churches.

Philip Akin, Artistic Director of Obsidian Theatre, once again lends his stentorian tones to the role of Pontius Pilate, the aggravated magistrate who ruled against the Messiah the first time around (albeit through abdication).  With so many new cast members, however, it’s a bit like starting all over again, leaving room for the actor to bring new and interesting shades to the role.  Akin is shifting gears a little, coming fresh off his last triumph as director of Andrew Moodie’s Toronto the Good at Factory Theatre.  It does call for a small mental/temperamental readjustment.  “In this thing I got told what to do. In the last I did the telling,” Akin summarized.

Jamie Robinson steps into the sandals of the Son of Man playing a version of Jesus he describes as “a down to Earth, chilled out home-boy from New York who loves everyone, including the least of his creatures.”  The talented actor is no stranger to classic themes, as recent turns in Medea (Mirvish) and Merchant of Venice (Stratford) attest.  This role sent him back into his New Testament to refresh the basics absorbed in adolescence.  “It is a much more interesting book now than it was then,” observed Robinson.  “Jesus comes across more human than I thought.”  Jesus’ presence is significant onstage, even when he hasn’t got much to say.  Eventually, he goes head to head with Judas, taking it down to “the bare bones of a New York, macho brotherly love and frustration Battle Royale.”

Zarrin Darnell-Martin plays both one of the Soldiers, and one of the hippest saints ever to hit the stage.  With equal capacities for watchful stillness and raw energy, Darnell-Martin comes correct.  “Playing Saint Monica has made me realise that being a Saint is nothing more than being good, and good people come in every size and shape and sometimes, as in my case, they are ghetto and sassy and wear a bandanna on their head and say mothaf***** every other word! Strength is strength no matter how it is packaged!”  Fellow National Theatre School graduate, Abdu Bedward, in the role of a Soldier, brings the outmoded centurion image down to earth and out to play.

The play’s stellar cast is full of heavyweights, and accordingly, the production hits a home run.  Directed by David Ferry are Philip Akin, Aviva Armour Ostroff, Abdu Bedward, Adam Brazier, Zarrin Darnell-Martin, Ted Dykstra, Richard Greenblatt, Zorana Kydd, Diego Matamoros, Morris Panych, Louise Pitre, Janet Porter, Jamie Robinson, Shaun Smyth and Christopher Stanton.

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

by Stephen Adly Guirgis
until April 15, 2009
The Fermenting Cellar, Distillery District
Tickets may be purchased online at www.totix.ca
or in person at the T.O.TIX Booth (Yonge-Dundas Square, Tues - Sat, 12noon -6:30pm). Limited ticket availability at the door (cash only) $40
Birdland Theatre: www.birdlandtheatre.com

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