“Judas Iscarioit” makes waves at Illinois Wesleyan

By Gabrielle Ghaderi Feb28,2020

 I hated Sunday as a kid because it meant having to withstand an hour of sitting in uncomfortable pews and listening to people five times my age read from and talk about an ancient book. 

From this experience, I have since seen religion as synonymous with boredom, until I saw IWU’s School of Theatre Arts production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.

Directed by David Koté, Judas Iscariot was by far the best and most lively Sunday service I’ve ever attended. 

The play explores religious ideas of God’s mercy and power through the Bible’s most infamous traitor: Judas Iscariot. 

Set in a courtroom in Purgatory, playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis creates courtroom-style drama that puts Judas on trial, hoping to answer one question: If God is all-merciful, why is Judas in hell?

To answer this question, the court calls numerous biblical and religious figures to the stand, only to quickly realize that these witnesses are definitely not how they are traditionally envisioned. 

Saints have no problem with dropping f-bombs and doing so frequently. 

The strong language may be an area of critique, saying it distracts from the central message. 

But I disagree, the language doesn’t distract; it captivates. 

Hearing St. Thomas call Judas a “f*cking d*ck” startled me, but in doing so, it also grabbed my attention, making me actively listen to the philosophical and religious message buried beneath the profanity. 

Lighting designer Julie Ballard and scene designer Curtis Trout pushed the limits of live theatre, gripping the audience in IWU’s production of Judas Iscariot. 

The creative use of space and light takes the play’s stagnant courtroom setting and turns it into a dynamic space. 

Satan crawling out of a manhole on the courtroom floor and Jesus “disappearing” in plain sight are just two of the ways Trout and Ballard kept me on the edge of my seat in what would otherwise be a dull and motionless courtroom.

Braden Tanner as a stylish and charming Satan and Jim Conklin’s heartbroken Judas were also particularly notable in creating relatable, humane characters out of otherwise one-dimensionally sinister figures.

On the other side of the spectrum, figures such as Cat Groth’s Mother Teresa were painted as flawed and equally as human as everyone else. 

The dynamic is helpful in reminding us that characters like Judas and Mother Teresa are both flawed and, in fact, struggled with similar doubts in God.

Though the deeper theological references may have been lost among audience members less familiar with the Christian faith, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot’s central theme of mercy and forgiveness remained accessible to people of all backgrounds. 

In only a few hours, this production immersed me in a more complete and thought-provoking exploration of spirituality than any of the church services I was forced to sit through as a child. 

The play’s unorthodox spin on Christianity reawakened the long-dormant questions about my own faith in a way that made me wish every Sunday could be just as riveting.

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