Trial by Theater

By Steven Libowitz   |   May 30, 2023
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot runs May 25-June 4 at UCSB’s Performing Arts Theater (photo by Jeff Liang)

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, the allegorical play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis (Between Riverside and Crazy), already turns typical storytelling on its ear as it involves a courtroom trial over the ultimate fate of perhaps the most famous sinner in the story of the Bible. To examine existing understandings of heaven, hell, purgatory, guilt, and forgiveness, the play employs flashbacks to Judas’ imagined childhood and testimony from such non-believers and followers as Mother Teresa, Pontius Pilate, Mary Magdalene, Sigmund Freud, and Satan – but is also as funny as it is thought-provoking. 

Now add in a production featuring UCSB student actors and guest director Kendra Ware, a Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artist who favors experimental approaches and examinations of race, gender, cultural politics, and individual identity. Audiences are in for quite a wild ride.

“I really liked the idea of exploring Judas’ relationship with Jesus as a classic way of dealing with redemption and forgiveness, and using the Biblical character to consider whether he is in a Hell of his own making, and who is the ultimate betrayer in our world or society,” explained Ware, who sets the action in a derelict pool hall in a post-apocalyptic world that still references our time and place. “It reflects how I feel about our crumbling justice system. I started playing around with the ideas of the deepest levels of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, and the play’s reference to whether it’s purgatory or a place called hope, and the allegorical elements of what the author wrote; references to his own life.” 

Ware said that while she had the students do research into their characters and engage in “share and tell” with the other members of the cast, she also employed a variety of theatrical tricks to overcome the fact that the actors are all in their late teens or early 20s. 

“These characters can’t all be of a unilateral age, so we played around with accents, speech patterns, costumes and physicalities,” she said. 

The piece itself is obviously very serious and heady, Ware said, with themes about where people and things go when they die, and how forgiveness works. 

“Everybody else can forgive you, but if you don’t forgive yourself, does it matter? If you’re still immersed in guilt or whatever you’re carrying around, you stay ensconced in that constant state of pain.”

Fortunately, The Last Days is also, pardon me, devilishly funny. 

“It’s the irreverent mixed with the reverent, which I love to work with,” Ware said. “The piece already has a lot of experimental qualities, but I played around even more with race and gender, added extra tropes. I have definitely taken an absurdist approach.” 

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot runs May 25-June 4 at UCSB’s Performing Arts Theater. Call (805) 893-2064 or visit

In a rare double dip, the UCSB Department of Theater/Dance has a second show running simultaneously during the last weekend in May, an adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters by Libby Appel, from the first year acting students at UCSB’s three-year old BFA Acting Program. Director Annie Torsiglieri shepherded the in-depth creative exploration which featured the students spending more than 100 hours analyzing the work. The result will be shown on stage as part of the Acting Up Front performance program (May 25-27) in UCSB’s Movement Studio, Theater/Dance West Room 1507. Admission is free. Call (805) 893-2064 or visit


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