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The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Eric Dean White (left) and Chris Ware in "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" at Mustard Seed Theater. Photo by Ann K Photography

Don’t let the title fool you: “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” presented by Mustard Seed Theatre at Fontbonne University, is not a biblical pageant. Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by Adam Flores, the play is a droll, poignant and surreally intriguing meditation on nothing less than the meaning of life. And this production is outstanding.

Judas Iscariot (Chris Ware) is in a deep funk — and with good reason. Still feeling guilty about his betrayal of Jesus, he’s also spending his days in hell. His only hope for a reprieve is a trial that will determine his ultimate fate.

Arguing on his behalf is the feisty Cunningham (Courtney Bailey Parker), who believes that Judas has suffered enough. Representing the prosecution is the often flustered El-Fayoumy (Carl Overly Jr.), who would just as soon see him burn in the bad place for eternity.

Taking the witness stand is a starry lineup including the smugly self-assured Sigmund Freud (Felice Skye), the charmingly bumbling Mother Teresa (Rachel Tibbetts), the righteously indignant Pontius Pilate (Carmen Garcia) and the arrogantly hotheaded Satan (Eric Dean White). As might be expected, their testimony doesn’t necessarily have much to do with the matter at hand, but it’s consistently entertaining.

Irreverent but short of sacrilegious, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” is at once intellectually stimulating, richly theatrical and outrageously hilarious. Guirgis, who won the Pulitzer Prize for “Between Riverside and Crazy,” addresses a difficult subject — the role of religion in people’s lives — with philosophical insight and moral courage. The play’s blend of comedy and compassion is simply breathtaking.

Flores deftly negotiates Guirgis’ shifting tones, including a sequence involving testimony from the Jewish high priest Caiaphas (Ariella Rovinsky) that’s played straight and has the weighty feel of a play by Eugene O’Neill or Arthur Miller. The splendid cast also includes Rae Davis, Graham Emmons, Chelsea Krenning, Jesse Munoz and Chandler Spradling.

“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” is a thrilling experience and not to be missed.

Calvin Wilson is theater critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.