Held over the span of six days in Life Hall’s Studio Theatre, a cast of Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) actors in Montclair State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance performed Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.”
Set in Purgatory, the play follows the trial of the infamous disciple known for betraying Jesus, Judas Iscariot, played by senior acting major Fox Postier, 2,000 years after the incident. It brings biblical history to life in a comedic and engaging way, complete with flashbacks, testimonies and more, as the characters speak and act like everyday people in the city.
Jake Williams, a junior acting major who portrays Satan, explains the ideas touched on in the play.
“Themes of greed, honor, integrity, truth and self-actualization are huge in this story,” Williams said. “Are we able to be honest with ourselves? Can we forgive ourselves? How do we let our actions and mistakes get the better of us? These questions tap into the basis of human nature, which is fascinating to explore.”
Director Frederick “Tommy” Schrider spoke about bringing the script and these ideas to life.
“I think the biggest challenge was figuring out how to lift what is essentially a courtroom dramedy, with the occasional saintly interlude, off the page and propel it into visceral, dynamic, theatrical life,” Schrider said.
While there is much to take away from the play and how it was executed, Schrider reflects on the broader meaning of the piece.
“After [the play], I want [the audience] to be able to see themselves and others with a little more humility, understanding and compassion,” Schrider said. “And, hopefully [also] move through the world with a bit more grace and a softer heart.”
This message is delivered through a standout cast that will impact how you see their characters, leaving you unable to watch another version of the play in the same way.
Defense attorney Fabiana Cunningham, played by Elise Bednar, a freshman acting major, and her foil Yusef El-Fayoumy, the prosecutor played by sophomore acting major Isaiah Robinson, lead the narrative as they argue the case of Judas’ guilt during the trial and call in various biblical witnesses for testimonies.
Before the trial kicks into high gear, however, there was an amazing performance by Dale Harris, a senior acting major, as she introduces her character, Saint Monica. Her upbeat nature made for a humorous and priceless scene, but an emotional part that follows showed that Harris could do much more than bring laughter.
Bednar, as Fabiana, was also incredibly impressive in the way she delivers her lines with such emotional impact, unwavering during her character’s lengthy, quick-witted lines.
Each person was perfectly cast and perfectly embodied their characters, from Satan and El-Fayoumy to Bailiff, played by junior acting major Maxine Stillwagon, and Caiaphas, played by senior acting major Jax Azoff.
Eliana Valente, a freshman theatre studies major, says the cast seemed to be a common highlight among other audience members as well.
“Every actor had so much energy,” Valente said. “And they were never out of character for a second.”
Julianna Wolliver, an aspiring actor who is also a freshman theatre studies major, agreed.
“I am greatly impressed and deeply inspired by all of the actors in this play,” Wolliver said.
What also stood out is how the characters constantly broke the fourth wall, treating the audience as the court’s jury and attempting to convince its members. It felt like something the audience was a part of, rather than something they were simply observing. This, as well as the cast itself, made the play unique and set it apart from others.
Interacting with the audience in order to tell a narrative as they performed “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” impacted the actors themselves, according to Williams.
“Working on this play has been the most rewarding experience of my life, [in terms of] getting to tell this beautiful story every night to a room full of people eager to dive in with us,” Williams said. “None of this could’ve been possible without the extraordinary cast and crew of this production who gave it their all to make this show what it is. Everyone worked together, and we really feel like a family. I’m extremely grateful to be a part of it.”
Schrider notes the exceptional cast’s ability as well.
“I was so proud of the way these actors, all BFA students, jumped in the ring with this play, put themselves on the line and created something really special,” Schrider said.