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The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  August 30, 2013 03:04 PM

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By John Vitti, Globe Staff

Over the last year, the people involved with Team Starkid have traveled far and wide, physically and artistically. That journey has brought them to Stage 773 in Chicago for “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot”. The resulting production is one people will look back on in the not-too-distant future -- when many of the performers are household names --- and say, “I saw him and him and her and her, too, at a 100-seat theater on West Belmont ... and it was electric.”

“Judas” is not an official Starkid production, but director Julia Albain, producer Corey Lubowich, and actors Lauren Lopez, Joey Richter, Brian Rosenthal, Joe Walker, and Dylan Saunders are among those with roots to the University of Michigan troupe that found Internet fame with “A Very Potter Musical” in 2009. Starkid, which formed out of a common love of musical comedy in Ann Arbor, has established its base in Chicago.

In the late spring of 2012, Starkid went on a coast-to-coast Apocalyptour, a musical revue showcasing their Internet projects and albums to that time. The 22-city tour, with Albain serving as director, banged out the Roseland Ballroom in New York on its final night. Afterward came “A Very Potter Senior Year” and “Twisted” (a takeoff on “Aladdin”) as well as work with Second City, including “Airport for Birds” and the upcoming “1 Night 2 Last 3 Ever”.

“Judas” is unlike any of that.

The play was written in 2005 by Stephen Adly Guirgis and centers on a court trail a few steps below Heaven about the nature of Jesus’s betrayer. There are a number of comedic moments, a many well-played by Daniel Strauss as obsequious prosecutor Yusef El-Fayoumy, but any work examining the machinations of God’s forgiveness opens at thought-provoking. Most every character -- and many of the cast members play multiple roles -- has a long showcase scene with monologues laying out each individual’s soul and its individual reasons for its torture.

It is all catnip for an actor. Some of the performers, including Lopez (a foul-mouthed Saint Monica/a witty and wise Mother Theresa), were involved with Albain’s production of it in 2008 at Michigan. It is easy to see why they were jonesing to restage it as professionals.

The most is made of the limited space at Stage 773. The courtroom is an island surrounded on three sides by the audience. Behind it a wide staircase leads to a large stone fireplace, with more stairs to balconies on the wings, all used effectively by saints and sinners listening in from on high.

It is from there we met the devil himself. Richter, barely 24 years old, is dynamic as Satan. As written, Satan is charming and quick with all the answers, be they true or not. As played, Richter commands the audience’s attention, especially in his stillness. An expensive blue blazer and a mohawk are worn as second skin instead of calculated scene-stealers. He is graceful in his movements; he is mesmerizing in his quiet.

Chicago theater-goers may see the names attached to the production and the tiny space and discount the seriousness of the production. That would be a mistake. To dismiss “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” would be a sin of omission.

“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot”
through Sept. 8, 2013
Stage 773
1225 W. Belmont Ave.
Chicago, 773-327-5252
http://www.stage773.com/

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