The dark side of humor exposed in ‘Judas’

Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (senior Brianne Applegate) and Simon the Zealot (junior Christopher Reed) defend Judas at trial.

By Cathleen Leitch

Betrayal is never taken lightly. When your best friend steals your boyfriend, you get mad. But what if your best friend traded in your life for money?

The latest theatrical production at Rider explores the fate of one of Jesus Christ’s closest friends, Judas Iscariot. Most people have heard the story: Judas betrays Jesus and hands him over to the authorities for a lump sum.

As would be expected, Judas is sent to hell, but wait — is that where he’s meant to stay? That is the question The Last Days of Judas Iscariot tries to solve through a long and explosive trial held in purgatory.

“I’ve seen the show about a hundred times and I still find something new to laugh at every time,” said sophomore Alex Boyle, assistant stage manager of the production.

The feisty defense attorney Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (senior Brianne Applegate) fights against the outrageous Judge Littlefield (senior Justin Kelly) to have The Kingdoms of Heaven and Earth v. Judas Iscariot heard. She gets the waiver signed by God, who she, despite his signature, does not believe in. This dark, ironic humor is displayed throughout the show.

Before the trial blasts off, as it most certainly will, we meet a few characters. First comes Henrietta Iscariot (sophomore Samantha Ferrara), a passionate mother who refuses to give up on her son. The off-the-bat dramatics are countered by a bit of comic relief, which is found in Saint Monica (junior Jill Carucci).

This foul-mouthed saint is an example of diversity in heaven and she shows the first look into Judas himself. Judas (freshman Dan Argese) remains catatonic for most of the trial, but little testimonial memories are weaved throughout.

Once the trial begins, the audience meets character after character that has either known Judas or has a professional opinion. Some of the more notable characters include the ferocious Pontius Pilate (sophomore Paul Calvello) who depicts Judas as cowardly scum, and a cavalier Simon the Zealot (junior Christopher Reed) who suggests Judas was just fighting for the cause.

“The cast is extremely talented and diligent, and completely dedicated to their characters,” Applegate said.

This play is all about the characters in it: they create the plot, they make Judas’ fate and they are all important. The witnesses, however, aren’t passionate about the cause; they simply answer what they’re asked. The passion and conviction are driven from the lawyers, Yusef El-Fayoumy (freshman Greg Clark) and Cunningham.

Ironically, the prosecutor who loves the guilty verdict is more likable than his defense counterpart. She really knows all the witnesses and makes sure to point out their flaws. She entices them, she mocks and even yells, and her drastic methods bring out the violent side of one man.

“My role as Cunningham was a bit of a challenge, because she had layers underneath her armor that I needed to break through,” said Applegate. “These layers that Cunningham has protect a very tender and easily bruised heart, and, like Judas, she needs saving, too.”

One aspect that sticks out was the portrayal of the dichotomy of Jesus’ 12 disciples. Most of them, excluding Simon the Zealot, have minimal roles that, despite being short, give depth to Judas’ betrayal. Almost all of them relate how close Jesus and Judas were, which is where the play meets its emotional end in a tragic argument scene between Jesus and his best friend.

“As children, Judas Iscariot was portrayed as an evil betrayer. But this play sheds a different light on him, and we begin to understand and pity him,” Applegate said.

When the play begins, it seems a simple trial. Judas is guilty, so he should spend eternity in hell, but this does not hold out long. This show is an excellent mix of drama and comedy that delves into controversies in a funny yet inoffensive manner.

Tickets for Judas Iscariot can be purchased at the door or by calling the box office at (609) 896-5303 or by e-mailing ticketbooth@rider.edu. Tonight’s preview is $5 for students/faculty and $10 for general admission. Regular performances are Saturday, Feb. 19, Friday, Feb. 25, and Saturday, Feb. 26. Tickets for these shows are $10 for students/faculty and $20 for general admission.

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