Friday, March 4, 2011

Judas In March

Two different plays open in March looking at Judas and Jesus from a modern perspective.

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The relationship between Jesus of Nazareth and Judas Iscariot carries a lot of weight with some people. The two guys, if they did, in fact, exist in a traditional historical way beyond biblical texts, might have been suprized to find out that people would still be putting weight and significance on their relationship 2 thousand years later. Jesus was a political troublemaker. The Romans wanted him killed. One of his friends—Judas handed Jesus over to the Romans. Precisely why he did this and what the end of his life was like are in speculation.

Did Judas turn in his friend for a bunch of silver? Did, as a text attributed to the character that was unearthed a few years ago suggests, Jesus suggest to Judas that his death would be a good idea, politically speaking? Was he killed? Did he die in a field purchased with the money? All perfectly valid questions that seem pretty irrelevant to someone who looks on the book as a weird, bizarrely influential piece of literature and little more. But the relationship between a man who preached peace and the friend who turned him over to those who wanted him dead remains interesting. The first full week of March, a couple of contemporary plays make it to local stages that explore the relationship between Judas and Jesus.

March 9th through 13th, the UWM Theatre Department. under the direction of Rebecca Holderness stges a production of Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. It’s a courtroom drama set in a contemporary courtroom. Judas is on trial for his crimes. One by one people get called to testify including Sigmund Freud, Satan, Saint Monica (we know her better as Santa Monica,) and others. It’s a compelling courtroom drama. Directed by New York-based Rebecca Holderness, the production is being rendered on UWM’s big main stage theatre. Should be an interesting production.

The original featured Eric Bogosian as Satan. It was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. The fact that it debuted on London’s West End probably has a lot to do with why the play, which took a sympathetic look at the plight of Judas, wasn’t more controversial. People don’t seem to get as worked-up about sacrilege out there.

As the UWM production of Last Days runs its course at UWM, an altogether more controversial drama makes it to the stage of the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center. relatively new company Theatrical Tendencies’ production of the Terrence McNally play Corpus Christi takes the stage March 11th – 26th. The play reframes the story of Jesus and his apostles in contemporary Texas. Here Jesus is a kid living in Corpus Christi, Texas. He’s gay. Judas is his lover. Jesus performs a gay marriage. It’s not difficult to see why the show has met with numerous problems in productions all over the country. A story with a specific appeal to open-minded Christians, this is the story of Jesus’ life and legacy cast in a contemporary setting, so naturally it’s going to appeal to production companies funded in part by Churches. In the past couple of years, a number of college productions have been shut down when churches have pulled funding.

Theatrical Tendencies has tremendous dedication to the work. From the press release:

"We feel passionate about this important theatrical work that makes such an impact at a time when schoolyard bullies and political rethoric have reached such potentially fatal levels" says Producing Director David Carter. "The ultimate message of this show is that we are each special. We are each ordinary. We are each divine."

Theatrical Tendencies stages the show with an impressive cast under the direction of Mark E. Schuster. The cast includes Jeffrey Berens, Tairre Christopherson, Joshua Devitt, Michael Endter, Brian Firkus, David Goines, James Lautenbach, Charles Lynch, Joel Marinan, Mark Neufang, Roger Rivas, James A. Skiba, and Keith Smith.

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