When examining betrayal, what is the appropriate punishment for the man who double-crossed one of history's most revered figures? In the bowels of purgatory, this is the question that two attorneys debate in the case of Judas Iscariot. From Pontius Pilate to Sigmund Freud, a slew of famous witnesses offer perspectives on Judas' guilt and innocence. Meanwhile, the lawyers cope with a cantankerous judge on heaven's wait-list and a ragtag jury that includes a flighty angel, a comatose patient and a beer-swilling Southern boy who doesn't know he's dead.
Originally produced at the off-Broadway Public Theater in 2005, with Philip Seymour Hoffman at the helm, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a challenging piece that permits no pat answers yet poses innumerable philosophical quandaries. Throughline Theatre's season-closing show is the play's Pittsburgh premiere. Kaitlin Kerr and Liam Macik share directing credit, and their dedication to playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis' work imbues the production with an emotional core that never wavers.
Under Kerr and Macik's direction, the 16-person cast is collectively strong. In particular, Ursula Asmus Sears is subdued yet riveting as the hard-nosed defense lawyer, while Parag S. Gohel provides a needed bit of comic relief as the manic prosecutor, even though by the last scenes his cartoonish antics verge on tiresome.
Relegated to a solitary hell on one side of the stage, Judas speaks only in flashbacks and in the presence of the one he betrayed. Consequently, he is at once an omnipresent force and a guest star in the play that bears his name. While this unusual choice works in favor of the overall story, Casey Cunningham's turn as the nuanced yet tempestuous Judas is so strong that it leaves a distinct sense that in this instance, less might not be more.
With a three-hour running time, this is no lunchtime sermon. But for those with the fortitude to endure a messy exploration into the life — and death — of Christianity's most maligned traitor, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is one production for the ages.