“When I went on that audition, I was pretty determined to walk away with that role,” out actor Peter Danzig said about landing the part of Jesus in “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. ” “I had read the script a couple years ago and I’ve always loved the play. Ironically, I understood the character of Jesus the way that the playwright wrote him.”
The play, which is running through May 29 at the Second Stage at the Adrienne Theater, is a dark comedy by Stephen Adly Guirgis, imagining an atheist lawyer filing suit to get Judas released from Hell on the grounds he doesn’t deserve to be there. During the trial, testimony is heard from all the big names involved in the Bible’s story of betrayal, including Satan and Jesus.
Danzig said he doesn’t necessarily view the production as a comedy.
“I personally would classify the show more along the lines of a melodrama. I think that there are comedic elements but the material is really serious. I think it all depends on somebody’s background and how literally they take these characters. Somebody with a really strong religious background may walk into this show and not find some of these scenarios and occurrences between these characters funny. But somebody who just walks in and is just looking at it as a non-religious piece about one man and his despair may find some really comedic elements. It all just depends on your background and how much you’re willing to take a leap and forget all the associations that everybody knows about these characters.”
People with a strong religious background might also take umbrage with the play’s perceived characterization of both Jesus and Judas as gay. But Danzig doesn’t fully buy into that interpretation of the characters either.
“Through my research of Jesus and Judas’ relationship, that dichotomy and understanding has been around for centuries,” he said. “There’s always been a question that people had as to their relationship. For me as an actor, if those feelings were there for either character, I don’t know if they were necessarily explored between the characters. In terms of our story, it could be interpreted that way. The audience could definitely walk away with that interpretation, but it’s not the way that myself and the other actor geared it. We weren’t working toward that association. These two characters share this really in-depth relationship. It transcends sexual and personal relationships. It’s truly one of a kind. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there is or are those tendencies between those two characters but maybe there were, and who are we to say?”
He added that he wouldn’t be surprised if audiences see a gay subtext in the production and, thus, he’s prepared for any uproar that could arise.
“The story of Judas has excited people and brought out controversy,” Danzig said. “It’s the most intimate relationship that I have played as an actor in a long time. This script is definitely urban and new-age. It’s written in a contemporary manner. The way that these characters interact may cause some controversy but that is the essence of theater: to make people think outside of the box. Whenever that happens, there’s always controversy.”
Yet it’s Danzig’s hope that audiences will see past any preconceived notions or taboos to the message at the core of the play.
“Everything in this world has a cause and effect and this play explores that,” he said. “I hope that when people walk out of this show, they will really see that things are not always what they seem or so one-sided.”
Fever Dream Repertory presents “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” through May 29 at Second Stage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. For more information or tickets, call (267) 997-3799.