Laughs and tears in fresh show

Laughs and tears in fresh show

by David Dixon

After watching “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” presented by the Skull & Dagger Dramatic Society at San Diego State’s Experimental Theatre, I went to my car and didn’t even turn on the radio while driving back home. Instead, I reflected on the production and all the events that happened in the play. That’s how impactful the humorous drama was to me.

Set in modern day purgatory, the story focuses on two lawyers, Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Kay McNellen) and Yusef El-Fayoumy (Julian De La Mora), who debate if Judas Iscariot (Bernardo Mazon) was responsible for the death of Jesus of Nazareth (TJ Toribio). The lawyers call upon famous men and women, such as Pontius Pilate (Taylor Loew), Mother Teresa (Elizabeth Jimenez) and even Sigmund Freud (Austin Book) to determine whether Judas was guilty or innocent of this crime.

On opening night there were some minor technical difficulties with Nathan Davis’ effective sound design, which kept the performance from starting on time. However, after the first couple of minutes, it was easy to get into the tale, since the plot became so compelling.

The play was an ensemble effort because there isn’t a true central protagonist. The closest character that resembles this is Judas, but Mazon spent many sequences not saying a word. During scenes where he got to interact with others, Mazon portrayed Judas as a sad soul whose complicated feelings toward Jesus occasionally caused many audience members to tear up.

With the exception of a couple of actors, most of the performers were only on stage for a major sequence or two. Everyone mentioned above hit all the right notes in their edgy performances, and I wish I had more space to write in detail about the rest of the individuals who were involved in the campus presentation. This includes Dakota Ringer’s strong work in his hilarious and surprisingly deep take on Satan, Emily Yavitch as Henrietta Iscariot, the caring mother of Judas, Courtnee Stagnerd as the profane Saint Monica and Ryan Payne’s emotional depiction of Butch Honeywell, the foreman of the jury.

Director Brian Butler, along with Christian Erickson’s lighting and Kyle Montgomery’s set design, helped create a world that felt both otherworldly and relatable. At times, it resembled Kevin Smith’s comedy “Dogma,” which was also an irreverent and empathetic look at religion.

It should be mentioned that the original version of “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” was directed off-Broadway by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. If he were alive today, I could imagine him being delighted that this theater piece was produced by a dramatic society that is not afraid to tackle risky material.

Although there was language and lowbrow humor that likely shocked some, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” is ultimately a profound examination on spirituality and human morality. Here’s hoping that Skull & Dagger will pick another provocative script for its next big live adventure.

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Courtesy of Brain Butler