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The verdict is positive for 'Judas Iscariot'.

Byline: Paul Kolas

'The Last Days of Judas Iscariot'

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By Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Frank Bartucca. Presented by 4th Wall Stage Company at the Hibernian Cultural Center, 19 Temple St., Worcester. Performances at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 and 14; 2:30 p.m. Feb. 15. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $22 for seniors and students 22 and younger, and may be purchased online at www.4thwallstagecompany.org. For reservations, contact Frank Bartucca at (774) 262-5675, or e-mail frank@4thwallstagecompany.org.

With Luke Dombroski, Karin Trachtenberg, Paul R. Dixon, Jim Douglas, Michael Legge, Nancy Hilliard, Carol Allard Vancil, Dayenne C. Byron Walters, Fred D'Angelo, Erik Johnsen, Chris Kent, Joanna Tivnan, Daniel Boudreau, Derek Sylvester, Amanda Darrigo and James Lamoureux

WORCESTER -- Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis has an awful lot to say about whether or not the most famous betrayer in human history got a bum rap by being damned to hell for eternity. So much so that his hilarious, profane and incendiary "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot'' will raise plenty of eyebrows on the way to its hushed conclusion.

It's an angry, passionate work, forcing the audience to examine the big-picture issues: faith, divine intervention, free will and if and when mercy and forgiveness are in order. The 4th Wall Stage Company's feverishly acted production, seen on Saturday night and running through Feb. 15, will engender the kind of debate that a hot-button topic like religion, rife with eternal paradox, thrives on.

And it's most definitely the kind of controversial nirvana that director Frank Bartucca lives for. If God is an all forgiving deity, then why is Judas (Luke Dombroski) forever condemned to hell? Guirgis takes three hours of your time to ponder that question, and a host of others, in the form of a courtroom trial set in modern-day New York purgatory.

Forget Matlock and Perry Mason. They would be in over their heads with this bizarre and colorful host of witnesses, including Mother Teresa (Dayenne C. Byron Walters), Pontius Pilate (Erik Johnsen), Sigmund Freud (Fred D'Angelo), Mary Magdalene (Joanna Tivnan), Saint Peter (Derek Sylvester) and last, but certainly not least, Satan (Michael Legge).

And wouldn't you know it? Satan is hands-down the most entertaining and charismatic of them all. Attired in a shiny black Gucci suit, Legge's fabulously predatory, vulpine performance would make Mick Jagger proud, the surgical way he rips through the pit bull self righteousness of defense attorney Cunningham (played with terrific, indefatigable intensity by Karin Trachtenberg). Trachtenberg gives as good as she gets, though, in her merciless cross examination of Caiaphas the Elder (Jim Doulgas), accusing him and his Jewish brethren of being the real betrayers of Jesus.

Caiaphas defends his position by clinging to the precepts of the Torah. It's a battle of wills played out with mounting fervor by both Trachtenberg and Douglas, until she cuts him down to size with one of Guirgis' absurdist one-liners: "This is purgatory, Caiaphas, I got all day.''

As many in the cast do, Douglas takes on more than one role, most notably that of Judge Frank, who presides over this purgatorial melee with querulous humor. The prodigious profanity in the show would make Quentin Tarantino jealous with its unlimited creativity. So if you can't handle the scatological assault on display, and how Guirgis liberally employs it to hammer home his theological issues, you are strongly advised to wait for the next production of "Annie'' to come to town.

Otherwise, there is a great deal to chew on in evidence. Not all of it is digestible. "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot'' is a diamond in the rough -- brilliant, infuriating, exhausting, repetitive, contemplative, profound, obscene, digressive, didactic, shockingly funny, discursive, random -- as if written by an extremely articulate, slang savvy iconoclast ranting from a street corner to wary passersby.

The discourse may be uneven, but the high points are very high indeed. Nancy Hilliard's keening take on Judas's mother, Henrietta, is full of racking a-son-should-never-go-before-his-mother pain. Some of the anecdotal sentiments about hanging with Jesus -- D'Angelo's St. Thomas, Tivnan's Magdalene, Sylvester's Saint Peter -- are quite moving. Paul R. Dixon is a fawning delight as the prosecuting attorney, El Fayoumy, practically kissing Mother Teresa's feet while referring to her as "the iconic virgin.''

Walters, given a strap-on horn of a hearing aid to give the Mother's opinion about Judas' fate, is a riot, speaking with a wizened lingo imported from Bob Marley land. Johnsen's intimidating and fearsomely funny turn as Pilate would land him membership in The Sons of Anarchy, clad as he is in biker mode black, and strutting with don't-F-with-me defiance. His confrontational scene with Trachtenberg's Cunningham is a dramatic-comedic scorcher, Pilate defending himself and his Roman bros against claims of indiscriminate slaughter during his 10-year reign in Judea.

Carol Allard Vancil's portrayal of Saint Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine, isn't exactly a model of pious sainthood, wearing a black corset, and wistfully recalling cherished bygone days on the Santa Monica pier, but she tries her amusing best to wrest poor Judas out of his catatonic funk.

As Judas, Dombroski is mostly curled up on stage in a fetal position of despair, but he is a geyser of conflicted rage and fear in the flashback scenes, someone who is crying out in the wilderness. Even James Lamoureux's late appearing cameo as the fervently ministering Jesus can't erase the depths of agony etched on Dombroski's face.

You can come to your own conclusions about what it all means, but there's no doubt that Bartucca and company have delivered one hell of a conversation piece.
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Title Annotation:Living
Author:Kolas, Paul
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 9, 2015
Words:933
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