by Don Church & Tony Schillaci, Critics On the Aisle™
This is the stuff of powerful court-room dramas, but it’s definitely not formulaic Law & Order writing. It’s the kind of from-the-gut-and-brain creativity, by one of today’s most promising playwrights, Stephen Adly Guirgis, who is attracting the all-important-younger audience to keep the theater alive into the immediate future.
The play takes place at an imaginary trial, in a corner of Purgatory called Hope. Cunningham, a defense counselor (Brittany Green), is attempting to prove that Judas (Arron Lloyd), who is currently residing in a near coma in Hell, should be exonerated because he recanted his betrayal of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
Brittany is an actor to watch; her performance is as electrifying as her stage presence. Prosecuting the case is shifty lawyer El-Fayoumy, brought to life with a dazzling, comedic performance by Jack Fellows that too many ‘star’ performers of today couldn’t do if they were on trial for own lives. Zane Roberts is powerfully strong as the judge, and Desmond Thorne cringes and cowers appropriately as the bailiff.
These are two more superb performances by actors who, as do the others, convincingly play many parts in this no-holds-barred play.
Elizabeth McKnight as Saint Monica bitches and snaps like she ain’t no lady, and an irreverently wild caricature of Mother Theresa, Laura Zabbo sends-up another saint.
Lucifer Satan, a smarmy fast-talking club kid who rules the underworld, is given a human form by the deliciously devilish acting of James Turner – destined to be a major performer. In a luscious white-winged gown, Gloria (Tiffany Vinters) struts her stuff lovingly as she tells us about visiting her ‘baby girl’ back on Earth.
Although, to extremely devout religious folk and those who don’t keep up with (read as ‘approve’) how young people think and communicate, the language, comedy, and street slang might be considered rude, but these elements are actually the best and most honest scenes in the play – they ring of truth – like it or not.
By the middle of the second act the expertly placed humor that brings the necessary and relevant pauses to the compelling dramatic scenes abruptly ends – and the writing deteriorates into preachy sermons. These tirades and admonishments seem to have been written by an another playwright. The promise of the first act and the first part of the second act quickly disappears in the last scenes of the play leaving the audience unfulfilled by the play’s climax.
This Connecticut Repertory Theater production has a company of undergraduate BFA students and MFA candidates – designers and actors – whose work not only demonstrates the successful selection of people with a decided aptitude for the theater arts, but have now shown the polish of high-quality, personalized training. It’s present in every CRT show we’ve seen at University of Connecticut at Storrs.
As the audience waits for the play in the Studio Theater to begin, it sees the simple but powerful stage design by Allison McGrath, and equally bold lighting by Greg Purnell, and soon discovers, as the play unfolds, these two essential crafts fully support the themes in the play and provides the actors with a workable setting for their respective characters and their movements. These elements were well utilized by director Kristin Wold in the fine blocking of the show.
Hearing every sound effect and what the actors are saying in this electronic age is something that doesn’t always work as well as it should, but in this case Courtney Smith’s sound design deserved applause, too.
What an actor wears, including shoes, as trained and experienced performers will tell you, makes an invaluable contribution to help define character for the performer and the audience. In this production, Elicia Lord, demonstrated her considerable skill and unmistakable talent for creating and selecting the many items that go into effective, professional costuming. She helped to clearly and theatrically define the personalities of twenty-seven characters in this play: especially dazzling were the costumes of Caiaphas, Saint Monica, and Gloria.
The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot plays through Nov.7 in the Studio Theatre on the Storrs campus. For tickets, information, including directions, call 860-486-4226 or visit www.crt.uconn.edu
Evening performances start at 7:30 p. m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and matinees at 2:00 p. m.
The CRT seasons continues on the UCONN campus at Storrs with A Flea In Her Ear, Dec. 2 – 11, 2010,
Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre. Pride & Prejudice, Feb. 24 – Mar. 6, 2011, Nafe Katter Theatre, and Urinetown April 14 – 17 and the 27 – 30, 2011, Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre. Season tickets are still available for these productions at popular prices.
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