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The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773: Theater review

Stephen Adly Guirgis's mock trial of Jesus' betrayer gets a revival-cum-reunion.

 (Photograph: Mark Albain)
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Photograph: Mark Albain

Reed Campbell as Judas Iscariot and Aaron Seeburger as Jesus of Nazareth in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773

 (Photograph: Mark Albain)
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Photograph: Mark Albain

Britney Coleman as Gloria, Jessica Maynard as Henrietta Iscariot and Aaron Seeburger as Jesus of Nazareth in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773

 (Photograph: Mark Albain)
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Photograph: Mark Albain

Joseph Walker as Pontius Pilate and Reed Campbell as Judas Iscariot with Britney Coleman, Nico Ager and Ali Gordon in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773

 (Photograph: Mark Albain)
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Photograph: Mark Albain

Joey Richter as Satan in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773

 (Photograph: Mark Albain)
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Photograph: Mark Albain

Lauren Lopez as Saint Monica in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773

 (Photograph: Mark Albain)
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Photograph: Mark Albain

Lauren Lopez as Saint Monica and Reed Campbell as Judas Iscariot inThe Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773

 (Photograph: Mark Albain)
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Photograph: Mark Albain

Joey Richter as Satan and Reed Campbell as Judas Iscariot inThe Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773

 (Photograph: Mark Albain)
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Photograph: Mark Albain

Dylan Saunders as the Judge, Brian Rosenthal as the Bailiffand Alex Odell as Fabiana Aziza Cunningham in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773

 (Photograph: Mark Albain)
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Photograph: Mark Albain

Dylan Saunders as the Judge and Joey Richter as Satan in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773

 (Photograph: Mark Albain)
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Photograph: Mark Albain

Daniel Strauss as Yusef El-Fayoumy and Lauren Lopez as Mother Theresa in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773

 (Photograph: Mark Albain)
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Photograph: Mark Albain

Daniel Strauss as Yusef El-Fayoumy, Joey Richter as Satan and Alex Odell as Fabiana Aziza Cunningham inThe Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773

 (Photograph: Mark Albain)
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Photograph: Mark Albain

Daniel Strauss as Yusef El-Fayoumy, Brian Rosenthal as the Bailiff and Nico Ager as Sigmund Freud in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773

 (Photograph: Mark Albain)
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Photograph: Mark Albain

Joseph Walker as Pontius Pilate and Alex Odell as Fabiana Aziza Cunningham inThe Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773

 (Photograph: Mark Albain)
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Photograph: Mark Albain

Joseph Walker as Saint Peter and Nico Ager as Saint Matthew in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773

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.

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