The story of Judas Iscariot is not a happy one. Judas was one of Jesus’s apostles, and very close with Jesus. In possibly one of the most well-known moments in the Bible, Judas betrays Jesus, eventually leading Jesus to his crucifixion. Judas hangs himself after Jesus’s death, and has gone down in history as one of the Bible’s most notorious characters. Some versions of the story say Jesus told Judas to betray him, because it was part of God’s ultimate plan. But, the world has never been able to forgive Judas.
Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis has always been bothered by the story of Judas. He said:
“When I was a kid, the story of Judas troubled me a lot. It didn’t make any sense to me, it frightened me, and it seemed to fly in the face of the notion of the all-loving and all-merciful God…What I do remember is that I stopped believing the story, and that not believing – or not wanting to believe – made me feel a lot of things that didn’t feel good” (Guirgis, p. vii).
The inspiration for The Last Days of Judas Iscariot stemmed from this – what would happen if Judas’s case was to be revisited? Guirgis imagined it to be brought up as a court case. St. Monica brought forth a writ signed by God, so that Judas could have another shot at redemption. However, even though he had the opportunity to give Judas a happy ending, Guirgis had Judas found guilty. In my version of the play, I want to challenge the limits of human forgiveness, versus divine forgiveness. God signed the writ to bring Judas’ case to court, so he clearly feels some sort of redemption for Judas in the story. Judas betrayed God’s only son, and He can find forgiveness. So, why can’t people find any forgiveness in their hearts?
I would like to re-imagine the play as a more hopeful story, one full of forgiveness. I would like to see characters who sympathize with Judas have a larger and more significant role in the outcome of Judas’s trial. I would love to see Judas’s side of things. Guirgis says he was disturbed by the story of Judas, so I’m actually a little surprised Guirgis did not take the creative license to give Judas a happy ending.
I see myself siding with Guirgis’ opinion of the story of Judas betraying Jesus. As I have grown older and heard different versions of the story of Judas’s betrayal, I would like to see the idea that Jesus asked Judas to betray him be played out in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. I like the idea of having a Judas with some humanity. Guirgis scratched the surface, but I think that idea could be taken further.
I would make the character of Judge Littlefield more peaceful and gentle. Although Littlefield was absolutely hilarious, I do not know how believable I find a brash judge in this situation. I would rework moments like this:
“Judge Littlefield: - ‘Judas Iscariot’ ?!! Who brings this crap before me??!!
Cunningham: Your honor, my name is Fabiana Aziza Cunningham –
Judge Littlefield: - Never heard of you.
Cunningham: I live in Purgatory.
Judge Littlefield: Well you shoulda kept your legs closed! Motion denied! Next case!” (Guirgis p. 12)
For my reimaging, I think Littlefield would be played by a grandmotherly figure. In the above exchange, she respond to Cunningham with curiosity instead of this brashness. This does not mean that the humor in this character would be lost, though. Humor with this character could be found in her age, just like Guirgis did with Mother Theresa. However, humor would not be the main reason for Judge Littlefield. The character of Judge Littlefield would be used as beacon of hope throughout the story. Judas may be found guilty, but Littlefield would reflect God’s forgiveness. By having Littlefield as a more forgiving character, yet Judas still is found guilty in the end, I would be able to put forth the idea that God can forgive anyone, yet humans are quick to hold grudge.
I would also like the see more moments of forgiveness from other characters. Judas’s mother tells a beautiful story about her son, in which he gave away a popular toy to a poor boy when they were both little. Cunningham never questions Mrs. Iscariot, so the prosecutor, El-Fayoumy, destroys her. The story of Judas and the spinning top would be just as effective, even if Cunningham got a shot in there. I think some stage direction for non-verbal communication between Cunningham and Mrs. Iscariot would work in quiet nicely, as well. Cunningham’s mother did not love her, and I think Cunningham would sympathize with a woman who so loves her son. She may even envy Judas on that level. So I think some long looks of sympathy between the two, or even a sly pat on the hand from Cunningham to Mrs. Iscariot would work quiet nicely.
On that note, I would re-work the play to give a little forgiveness to Cunningham. In my mind, she is a kindred spirit to Judas. Both appear to be so sad. Both had a rough go at life. Satan outs Cunningham’s troubles to the whole courtroom:
Satan: “Cunningham, please don’t take this personally, but your father never really
loved you or wanted you, right? And the only reason your mother didn’t abort you
was because she was afraid of scarring – I think she told you that once, didn’t she –
Cunningham: Mister Satan! –
Satan: - Just because your parents resented you doesn’t mean that God does.”
(Guirgis p. 99)
No matter how many times the story is told, Judas is never redeemed. But, Cunningham could be. As shown by the above exchange with Satan, Cunningham obviously had a troubled past. I would want to include more of that, so she is more of a sympathetic character. I would like to see a happy ending for Cunningham in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. Maybe some sort of promotion, or she gets to live in Heaven now. I really just want to see a glimmer of hope for Cunningham because I think, in a way; this gives us a glimmer of hope for Judas’ soul.
Speaking of Jesus’s soul, I wish we could have seen more of the reason for his torment – Jesus. There is a painful and dramatic confrontation between the two, and Judas implies that there is much more to the situation than the reader/viewer knows about:
Jesus: I love you, Judas. And all I want – all I want – is to be not just near you –
but with you.
Judas: Shoulda thought of that before.
Jesus: Before what?
Judas: Just get the fuck outta here okay?
Jesus: Judas –
Judas: Don’t fuckin’ Judas me – You’re not wanted here, okay?
What is the “before” situation that Judas is referring to? I would take the opportunity to let Judas explain himself. This would be an opportunity for a beautiful and powerful moment between Judas and Jesus. I don’t expect things to be patched up between the two, because it does not seem like it would be possible. However, I believe that Guirgis is hinting at the fact that Jesus asked Judas to betray him, as a part of God’s master plan. So, I would like to play with that idea. I would have Jesus say that he asked Judas to do it out loud, when he is only in the presence of Judas. I am not trying to make Jesus a villain in the play, because he was simply following God’s will. But I think if the reader/viewer knew for sure that Judas betrayed Jesus as part of a master plan, Judas would become a much more humanized character. Even if the people in the universe of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot aren’t able to forgive Judas, the reader/viewer would be able to.
Finally, I would include some interaction between Cunningham and Judas, to show that they are kindred spirits in their tortured pasts. It was slightly disappointing and pretty surprising that Guirgis did not have any interactions between these two characters in his version, since Cunningham was Judas’ lawyer after all. I really did not get too much out of Butch’s monologue in the end of the play, so I would take that out and put in an interaction between Cunningham and Judas there. I imagine Jesus just leaving Judas’s lair, unsuccessfully patching things up with Judas. Although he lost his temper with Jesus, Judas is devastated by this loss. All of the sudden, Cunningham would appear. They would exchange words, and Judas would forgive her for losing the case. Cunningham would leave the cave, hopeful for what lies ahead. The play would end with Judas, alone on the stage, sitting on the ground in his lair. He would stare off into the distance, looking distraught and alone. All of the sudden, a glimmer of hope would appear in his eyes, even maybe smiling a bit. He would slowly stand up; walks away down the dark corridor of the lair. Fade to black.