Reviews of two productions on local stages: "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot," at Ballard Underground through April 22, and "Help" at Seattle Children's Theatre through May 13.
Shows on local stages this week include an R-rated rumination on Judas Iscariot’s crimes, and a PG-13 play about the early days of the Beatles:
‘The Last Days of Judas Iscariot’
Did Judas Iscariot really betray Jesus and, if so, why?
Historical evidence suggests that question has been kicked around since the second century. The standard answer is that Judas, one of the 12 apostles who followed Jesus during his years of teaching, arranged Christ’s arrest and eventual crucifixion for reward money.
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There have been many alternative theories explored in scholarship and art. Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” currently on stage in a riveting production by Ghost Light Theatricals, grabs hold of one popular idea and relentlessly explores its moral, historical and existential implications.
In his wild, equally funny and shattering dreamscape of a courtroom drama-comedy, Guirgis (whose “The Motherf***er with a Hat” is currently on Broadway) portrays Judas as a follower who expected Christ to lead a revolt against Roman occupiers. When that didn’t happen, he tried to force the prophet’s miracle-making hand by giving him to the authorities.
Judas (Joey Fechtel) spends much of this play in a catatonic state, crushed by guilt over the consequences of his actions. (When he gets to move and speak, Fechtel becomes a deeply sympathetic anti-hero.) Meanwhile, a jury hears testimony about whether he should spend eternity in hell.
On a tellingly grim set evoking some abandoned factory in the nowhere-afterlife of Purgatory, Judas’ trial becomes a circus of compromised souls, calling on such bizarre witnesses as a condescending Sigmund Freud (Raymond L. Williams) and a creepily eloquent Pontius Pilate (Chris Martinez). Other striking players are Judas’ silky defense attorney (Valerie Brunetto), a fawning prosecutor (Stephen Scheide) and a beleaguered Civil War-era judge (Justin Ison).
The entire cast and director Rob Raas-Bergquist are clearly inspired by Guirgis’ mad fable and killer torrents of surgically precise dialogue. Brenan Grant’s performance as Satan raises the story’s tension and stakes to an almost unbearable degree.
Through Sunday, Ballard Underground, 2220 N.W. Market St., Seattle; $12-$15 (www.ghostlighttheatricals.org).
Tom Keogh, Special to The Seattle Times
“Help,” the new biographical play about the Beatles, at Seattle Children’s Theatre, is at its best when the guys playing John, Paul, George and Ringo rock out.
At a recent performance, a closing mini-concert got both kids and parents up on their feet dancing to the cross-generational delights of “I Saw Her Standing There” and other Beatles tunes.
As for the rest of the show, produced by the touring Dutch troupe Theatergroep Max, it veers off-key at times.
The focus here: the personal challenges faced by four scruffy Liverpool lads as they meet and form a band destined to have vast musical and social impact. A cast of Dutch actor-musicians, speaking perfect English, portrays such heartaches as the death of teenage John’s mother; the conflicts of loyalty and necessity over the replacement of initial drummer Pete Best (with Ringo); and the onslaught of idolatry and hysteria the Beatles began to trigger in the early 1960s, when the play ends.
The play is frank about some aspects of the band’s rugged adolescence (punches are thrown) but edits out profanity and the gritty sexual aspects of the real story. The theater recommends the piece for youths ages 11 and up, which seems about right.
To this adult, the pacing of the improv-based piece (which also includes original tunes) can get loose and slapdash. And the narrative device of a squealing female Beatles fan was grating.
Also, don’t expect the music to match the quality of the real thing (or the best Fab Four cover bands). But the kids I observed stayed attentive for all 90 minutes and enthusiastically joined in on that rousing musical finale.
Through May 13 at Seattle Children’s Theatre, Seattle Center; $20-$36 (206-441-3322 or www.sct.org).
Seattle Times theater critic