SF State theater group puts modern twist on biblical story in "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot"

SF State theatre arts
Stephen Frothingham, middle, rehearses with other actors before the Judas Iscariot play, Jan. 28 at the Studio Theater in the SF State Creative Art Building. Photo by Mihail Matikov.

It’s a story of biblical proportions. The trial of the ultimate betrayal.

Judas Iscariot, the apostle of Jesus Christ, went down in history as the disciple who turned in his soon-to-be crucified leader to the authorities for thirty pieces of silver. The question of Judas’s motives for this took center stage Jan. 26 at SF State.

Paintings of dark, knotted trees engulfed SF State’s Studio Theater, an intimate venue and the setting for the play “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” a dark comedy chosen by SF State’s Players’ Club for their spring production. The Players’ Club is a student organization comprised of all theater majors that produces one full-length play of their own each year. It is directed, acted and designed entirely by SF State students.

The play, which originally debuted at the Public Theater in New York in 2005, takes a closer look at the New Testament character of Judas and the story of his controversial actions which eventually led to his suicide by hanging.

The play takes place in modern times. It’s a courtroom scene set in purgatory where one lawyer has chosen to defend Judas, who has been locked up in a catatonic state since he took his own life centuries ago.

“There’s so much about Judas Iscariot, people have talked about him for thousands of years, he betrayed Jesus, he’s always depicted by the traditional Christian church as this horrible person,” said SF State senior Stephen Frothingham, who was chosen to play the role of Judas. “I did a little bit of research; I read ‘The Gospel of  Judas.’ It’s a Gnostic text so it’s a little bit different. They show (Judas) as a hero, he was the one who Jesus trusted and said, ‘You need to do this so I can ascend to my throne in heaven.'”

In the play both of these perspectives of Judas are depicted by the various witnesses called to the stand, including, Mother Teresa, Sigmund Freud and Jesus.

The role of Judas has been one of the most challenging ever for Frothingham. He is on stage during the entirety of the two hour play going back and forth from acting out flashbacks used as evidence in the court or posed perfectly still in catatonic agony.

For Frothingham the role has been both fulfilling and emotionally exhausting.

“I get into my sad place for it. I’ll be crying, there’s snot coming out, tears and drool and then afterwards I have to find my happy place so I go and listen to some music. I just have to recenter myself because it’s unhealthy otherwise,” he said.

SF State senior Casey Worthington has been acting since his days in high school, but this time around he is taking his passion for theater behind the scenes as director. He chose it because he was attracted to the deep subject matter that is brought up in the script.

“For me what it really questions is fate and how much choice we have in our own lives, free will,” Worthington said. “Judas seems to have been chosen to do what he did and yet is it his choice to be in hell? What is free will? What is choice and what is fate? And which one controls the world we live in?”

The remaining shows will be this Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Studio Theater located in the Creative Arts building.

For backstage interviews and photos, click here.

SFSU theatre arts
SFSU students stretch out during a rehearsal before the Judas Iscariot play on premiered the night of Jan. 28 at the Studio Theater in the SF State Creative Art Building. Photo by Mihail Matikov.
SF State theatre arts
Emily Nyokka, left, and Jackie Szymborski prepare before the Judas Iscariot play, Jan. 28 at the SF State Creative Arts Building. Photo by Mihail Matikov.