Co-Op Actors Go On Trial

Allan Appel PhotoJohanna Delgado comes from a strict Pentecostal family. When her character St. Thomas says, mouth dripping in street-style derision, “Personally Judas is a bit of a jerk-off ... Actually he’s a dick,” she wonders what her grandmother, who will be in the audience, might think.

Delgado and fellow senior drama majors are putting on The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, a play by prize-winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, at Cooperative Arits & Humanities High School’s black box theater.

The challenging and vocabulary-expanding play, which is the seniors’ culminating project, will be presented Wednesday and Thursday at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at Co-Op at College and Crown.

It’s open to the public. Tickets are $2 for students, $5 for adults and $10 per family. (The high tech black box theater does have limited seating.)

The play present a trial in purgatory about whether Judas in ratting on Jesus, or whether he got a bum rap from an allegedly all-merciful God and therefore deserves a retrial.

Mixing philosophical terminology with the vernacular street talk that he has pioneered in the theater, the playwright calls witnesses to a steamy courtroom fitted out with graffiti-strewn Chairigami furniture.

Th witnesses range from the High Priest Caiaphas to Sigmund Freud, from St. Augustine’s foul-mouthed mom Monica (er, make that St. Monica) to Mother Teresa.

The New York Times’ Ben Brantley called the play an exposition-filled senior project about the Bible’s most famous betrayal.

What a perfect play for seniors in high school to put on. The kids in teacher Rob Esposito’s ensemble run with it, as evidenced by performances during tech rehearsal Tuesday morning.

“Lauryn, You’re Coming From Heaven”

Esposito called the play rigorous for his kids, complex. They had to look up so many big words since rehearsals began in January that it has almost been an S.A.T. experience, he said.

He and Dawn Washington—who plays Mary Magdalene, the overly intellectual jury foreman, and two other characters—were still discussing just what “ontology” means.

During tech rehearsal,  he reminded Lauryn Sneed, who plays St. Monica, that since she enters from heaven she should cut down on the dance moves. He said the modern play is precisely the kind of work his kids need to be familiar with as they leave school and potentially enter the world of today’s theater. (As juniors they put on a required Shakespeare play.)

At the heart of the the Guirgis play is St. Monica’s (Sneed) challenge to Mary Magdalene (Washington): “But Mary Mag [nicknames and street monikers are big in this text], if we are all eternal, could Jesus abandon Judas at the first mountain?”

That St. Monica wears six-inch heels, tight pants, and a T-shirt with a glittering heart underlines the point.

“I’m sure at some point Jesus and Judas had some ugly conversations. Students connect with the urban style of the language mixed with smart content,” said Esposito, who has been teaching drama at Co-Op since 2005.

“It’s not a blasphemous play. He [the playwright] is a person of faith. We talked a lot about faith [in the play prep]. These characters are more gruff, vulgar. They’re more real and human,” Esposito added.

Johanna Delgado, who hopes to become a nurse while perusing theater as a lifetime hobby, agreed.

“It’s kind of mind-blowing, but my grandmother is coming,” she said. “I hope she won’t be offended.”

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