Theater archives

God’s Justice May Be Eternal, But in Guirgis’s Judas, It’s Interminable Too


Despite its title, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot takes place in an endless Purgatory where there are no days or nights. There is, however, a juridical system, although you’d think everybody involved has already faced their last judgment. If this suggests Lewis Carroll’s nonsense logic (“Come, I’ll take no denial/We must have a trial/For really this morning I’ve nothing to do”), the comparison fits: The one good thing about Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play is its Alice-in-Wonderland willingness to turn sense upside down and go wild with language. Unfortunately, unlike Carroll’s witty foolery, Guirgis’s street-smart playfulness never leads you anywhere except down another rabbit hole of illogic.

In addition to making less theological sense than any dramatist who ever tackled the Christ myth, Guirgis is a classic case of the emperor’s new dramaturgy, having been acclaimed as a major playwright without ever producing what could justly be called a complete play. He has a high-powered verbal imagination, a flair for effective strokes of character, and in this piece reveals even some knowledge of history. But the result never adds up to anything more than a string of flamboyant rhetorical stunts and actors’ party pieces, a sort of metaphysical cabaret show. And a two-hour-40-minute cabaret, with the most substantive subject in Western culture always offstage, seems as interminable as Purgatory. Director Philip Seymour Hoffman hinders Guirgis’s case very badly by having all the lawyers’ proceedings conducted in a nonstop scream. A few of the better actors escape into something like a performance: Jeffrey DeMunn as Caiaphas, Stephen McKinley Henderson as Pilate, and most of all Eric Bogosian as Satan, who in Guirgis’s version apparently picks Judas up in a Judaean gay bar.