Stephen Adly Guirgis's 2005 play opens with a monologue by a mother who's lost her child. "Mothers are not meant to bury sons. It is not in the natural order of things," she says. It soon becomes clear that her son is Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. The mother's name? Henrietta. Henrietta Iscariot.
This should tell you something about the off-kilter tone of Guirgis's piece, which takes place in a Purgatory that's adopted a very Americanesque litigation system for eternal fates. Purgatory resident Fabiana Aziza Cunningham, a lapsed Catholic with a chip on her shoulder, wants to defend Judas in a new trial; El-Fayoumy, a sycophantic Egyptian Christian, steps up to prosecute.
This independent production is mounted by a cast and crew made up largely of University of Michigan alumni, many of them connected to the performing group Team StarKid, known for its massive YouTube following. Much of the creative team and cast first worked on Judas Iscariot in a student production at UMich, making this project a reunion of sorts, funded by a Kickstarter dubbed Judas Redux.
Director Julia Albain's staging makes smart use of Stage 773's difficult Thrust theater, with a handsome bi-level set designed by Corey Lubowich. Albain and her ingratiating ensemble of 15 actors (some Chicago-based, others now residing in New York and L.A.) can't improve the odd swerves in the script—sophomoric gags mixed into ranty theological arguments, silly depictions of Mother Teresa and Sigmund Freud as character witnesses and a Saint Monica who for some reason talks like a character from Guirgis's later The Motherfucker with the Hat—but they negotiate the curves nicely.
Standouts include Joey Richter's slickly menacing Satan, Dylan Saunders as both the trial judge and Caiaphas the Elder and Liam White as a juror who provides a quietly devastating personal story as the piece's coda. One caveat: A program note about the production process mentions that many of the actors "haven't done a straight play since college," and I'd say that shows in their vocal projection; it's a struggle to hear some of the dialogue over the venue's air-conditioning system.