By Ellie Gavin || Campus Life Editor
This week, the theatre department’s production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot ran from Thursday, April 9 through Saturday, April 11 in the Schnader Theater at the Roschel Performing Arts Center.
Set in a courtroom, the show tells the story of the court case that tried and decided the ultimate fate of the traitor Judas Iscariot. The play also uses a series of childhood flashbacks and courtroom testimonies to tell Judas’s tale.
Ipeknaz Erel, who plays Jesus in the show, describes the show as entertaining as well as thought-provoking. “[The show] makes us question the values of what’s actually good or bad and the concepts of heaven and hell,” Erel said. “There aren’t many plays handling serious issues like religion the way [playwright Stephen Girgius] does.”
Although the show is set in biblical times in a world that seems completely unlike our own, it isn’t difficult for a typical college student to find meaning and enjoyment in it. Jason Narvy, a visiting professor of theatre, the director of the show, and an F&M alum, feels that the show is very well suited for the college-aged audience and the F&M community.
“I think most F&M students are a healthy mix of iconoclast and architect: they take a critical or skeptical eye towards accepted notations and sort of reimagine those ideas in the hopes to create something better for the world. The show is in that same vein,” Narvy said. “The language is at times jarring and profane, so much so that you burst out in laughter; the characters are familiar ones portrayed in manners we wouldn’t expect, the bigger ideas of goodness are addressed by characters we would just as soon revile as understand.”
Although this show is a meaningful and entertaining one, it was not an easy one to produce for either Narvy or the actors. Narvy said it was very difficult for actors to get into character. “How does one play a saint, you know?” Navy said. “How do you translate “being eternally damned” into an actable verb?”
Erel agrees with this sentiment. “The biggest challenge was I think to keep it real with most of us because majority of the characters are funny and there are so many religious figures in the play. It’s hard to not think about the holiness of the characters while trying to keep it natural and contemporary,” Erel said.
For Erel personally, there was an added challenge of connecting to the character despite a lack of knowledge about the bible. “ I’m from Turkey and I had limited knowledge on the Biblical figures and the histories, and I play Jesus in the play,” Erel said. “So it was pretty hard to decide how to approach the character: the holy Jesus or the more human Jesus.”
Narvy worked with his actors to figure out how to connect to their characters and make the show more “actable.”
“We boiled down these characters into larger ideas, then found how those larger ideas and concept made an impact upon the students playing these roles. That’s where we started and then it became much more actable,” Navy said.
Although the plot may seem heavy given the subject matter, the show is actually filled with many lighthearted, entertaining, and humorous moments.
Narvy describes some of his favorite moments in the show. “I will admit, there are certain characters that certainly have particularly crude attacks which, sorry to say, are really enjoyable to watch. Pilate and Satan are particular bastards and damn that’s fun to hear! But even Mother Teresa gets a few jabs in here and there,” Narvy said.
The show’s balance between tackling heavy subject matter and remaining funny and entertaining is what makes the show such a unique success.
“Funny as hell, poignant as all get out. That’s why I think this particular playwright (Stephen Adly Guirgis) is one of our best in the country right now. His plays have the vernacular of everyday people. It’s not pretentious and at times it is some of the vulgarest language you will hear, frankly,” Narvy said. “But the reason he’s really good is that when his plays ends he has elevated us somehow– walked with us through some difficult questions like a friend because he himself is tormented by the questions raised.”
The end result is a show that is meaningful while still remaining extremely easy for the average F&M student to watch an enjoy.
“It’s not about art that’s preachy,” Narvy said. “Instead, it’s like you sit down at a bar and some dude on the next stool turns to you and says, ‘Lemme ask you question: Do you think God would really abandon a motherfucker like Judas?’ That’s going to be an interesting conversation, isn’t it?”
Ellie Gavin is the Campus Life editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.