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Theater review: 'The Last Days of Judas Iscariot' at Studio/Stage

August 25, 2011 |  2:20 pm

Corbin Mayberry, left, and Ray Holdridge II in "Last Days"

New to the Los Angeles theater scene, RATMO (Rise Above Theatre Movement) shows considerable audacity in its choice of an inaugural production -- Stephen Adly Guirgis' 2005 play “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at Studio/Stage. Demanding in the extreme, Guirgis’ serio-comedy features dozens of characters and the kind of tangential philosophical dialogue that requires a virtuosic staging.

Director Kenne Guillory, the group's founder, doesn't always rise to the level of his material.  But neither does he disappoint in a bold production that, while sometimes overwrought, is never hesitant.

The premise is simple: Judas (Tommy Lee Kirby), who is languishing in hell in a catatonic stupor, is about to get his day in court –- in Purgatory, to be exact. Crotchety Judge Littlefield (Ray Holdridge II) would like to throw the case out, as would sycophantic prosecutor, Yusef El-Fayoumy (Corbin Mayberry), but gritty defense attorney, Fabiana Azziza Cunningham (Summera Howell) is determined to get her infamous client a fair shake. To that end, a parade of characters, both biblical and historical, testify for and against Judas –- an opportunity for Guirgis to toy, cheekily and at some length, with the very nature of sin and salvation.

When a play runs in excess of three hours, it’s unusual to wish that the pacing were slower.  Yet though the actors, most of whom play multiple roles, show impressive zeal, poor articulation and rushed dialogue render the challenging language periodically incomprehensible.  Guillory, who also plays Pilate, short-changes some of the piece’s innate humor, and some obvious caricatures, such as Ryan Mercado’s effectively oily Satan, are portrayed more realistically than Guirgis may have intended.  Surprisingly, that straightforwardness proves a real strength, augmenting the tragic elements in this new company's noteworthy debut.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles.  8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays.  Also Sept. 5  at 1:30 p.m. Ends Sept. 18. $10-$40.  (323) 960-1055.  Running time:  3 hours, 10 minutes.

Photo: Corbin Mayberry, left, and Ray Holdridge II. Credit: Heather Holt.