‘Judas Iscariot’ preaches
Posted Oct. 5, 2007
Christina Carter
Portraying Judas Iscariot in “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” junior Theatre Arts major Sam Guzik rehearses a scene with his mother, Henrietta Iscariot, played by Nikki Jo Brandt. This production is Melody Rahbari’s senior directing thesis, as well as Jesse Soto’s senior design thesis. The play ran Sept. 27-29 and was produced by the University of La Verne’s Theater Arts department.

A courtroom in purgatory where the devil wears Gucci is the setting for the trial of Judas Iscariot. The scene takes place in “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” a play by Stephen Adly Guirgis and the latest production from ULV’s department of theatre arts.

The play, which was Melody Rahbari’s senior directing thesis and Jesse Soto’s senior design thesis, ran Sept. 27-29.

“I couldn’t understand for the longest time the story of Judas and Jesus,” Rahbari said. “This play helped me understand that Judas is loved, that he wasn’t ‘an exception to the rule’ like I always believed he was.”

Judas was, according to the New Testament, one of the original 12 apostles of Jesus and the one who betrayed him.

“I wanted people to give us the chance to tell our story without feeling that we were putting anybody’s faith or religious beliefs down,” Rahbari said.

The play takes place in a present-day courtroom in purgatory. Public defender Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Rhiannon Cuddy) presents a petition for the appeal of Judas’ sentence, signed by God himself.

The petition is offered to Judge Francine Littlefield (Rachel Ortiz). The trial is packed with witnesses ranging from Mother Teresa to Satan.

Although the setting of a courtroom would have one expecting a boring, over-analyzed two-hour show, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” is a semi-comedy spoken with a modern voice, bending time with contemporary dialects.

For example, Saint Monica (Seanette Garcia) comes onto the scene speaking in contemporary hip-hop street talk.

She narrates in slang how she came down from heaven to ‘check out’ Judas for herself and, after believing Judas’ remorse, “went back home and got on the horn with God.”

The main characters, however, stand apart from the action. Jesus of Nazareth (Hailey Heisick) and Judas (Sam Guzik) were two silent figures on the sidelines for most of the show until the end.

Then they become more vocal characters when Jesus demonstrates that Judas was never the exception of his love.

Other characters include a not-so saintly version of Mother Teresa, Mary Magdalene (Natasha Velasco) and Satan, the Prince of Darkness, (Adam Evans).
Guzick, Heisick, Evans, and Garcia all gave impressive performances that left a lasting imprint.

“I came about this play from my friend Adam Evans, who plays Satan in the show,” Rahbari said. “I instantly fell in love with it. We set to do it for September 2006 and we then got denied the rights to it, so we had to wait for another year to do it.”

Rahbari took more than one risk in producing this play. Jesus of Nazareth was not portrayed by a man, but by a female, junior Heisick.

“I in no way believe that Jesus is either male or female; to me, Jesus is genderless” Rahbari said.

“We don’t intend to offend, and unfortunately when we deal with a 2000 year old story, and with people’s beliefs, you’re going to get people who take it extremely personally,” Rahbari said.

The reactions from the audience, however, were far from offended.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Nancy Padilla, sophomore criminology major, said. “I thought it was going to be a serious play but it was enjoyable funny. It felt so real I forgot I was watching a play and that it wasn’t reality.”

“I thought it was a risky move,” Padilla said, concerning a female Jesus. “But I had no problem with it. It kind of allowed the character to express sensitivity that isn’t normally seen through guys.”

Victoria Elias, a sophomore at Cal Poly, agreed with this sentiment.

“I didn’t feel offended by Jesus being a girl at all; I sort of felt that if Jesus would have been a guy the level of intensity between Judas and Jesus wouldn’t have felt so strong,” Elias said.

For Padilla, Judas was her favorite character.

“He was so intense and it was like his pain could be felt,” she said.

Elias, on the other hand, couldn’t decide which character was her favorite.

“The cast was great; my favorites were Judas, Mother Theresa, Saint Monica, and of course the devil,” Elias said.

“I hope that [the audience] will debate about this,” Rahbari said. “I want people to come up to me a week after the show and argue with me about what the play suggests.”

The production and performance proved to be superb. Not only did Rahbari defy the conventional, but she also brought to stage a work of art.

“I hope we’ve created a dialogue in the community about religion and about love and about art,” Rahbari said.

Maria J. Velasco can be reached at mvelasco@ulv.edu.

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