Breaking Binaries: M.F.A. Third-Year Actors Present The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

By Taylor Steinbeck

Is mankind inherently good or evil? This long-debated question is at the center of Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’s dark comedy, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. “In a society plagued by the need to define everything from identity to justice in a binary,” says director David Mendizábal, “it is in the gray area that we will find discovery, change, and progress.” The M.F.A. Program’s third-year actors will be tasked with unpacking this heady idea in their last full-length production as M.F.A. students. To celebrate its opening at The Rueff tonight, we talked to four of the actors—Lily Narbonne (Fabiana Aziza Cunningham), Vincent J. Randazzo (Judge/Caiaphas the Elder), Oliver Shirley (Butch Honeywell/Saint Peter), and Justin Edward Keim (Simon the Zealot/Sigmund Freud/Saint Thomas)—about diving into the gray area and performing as the class of 2018 for the final time.

M.F.A. third-year actors Justin Genna, Adrianna Mitchell, Oliver Shirley, and Peter Fanone in
rehearsal for The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. Photo courtesy @ACTMFA2018 on Instagram.
What has your experience been like acting in this play?

Randazzo: What's been really great about working on this play is the muscle of Guirgis. For the past three years we've studied argument in Shakespeare and Shaw, and to apply that education to a contemporary writer like Guirgis has been really helpful, especially since this is a courtroom drama (albeit a very heightened one). So it's this fun mix of dense, heightened text but also this rough-and-tumble vernacular.

Narbonne: Playing Cunningham has been a wonderful challenge. Of all the large roles I’ve played , this is the first woman whose character is not concerned with love or her social status. This play is really about the big questions having to do with the history of Christianity, the existence of God, justice and mercy.

How do you hope audiences will respond to this production?

Shirley: I hope audiences will walk away with a renewed sense of how complex issues of “right and wrong” and “good and bad” can be. Things today often get categorized into one or the other, and what this play asks of its audience is to consider the gray area.

The M.F.A. Program class of 2018 in rehearsal for The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.
Photo courtesy @ACTMFA2018 on Instagram.
What does it feel like knowing that this is the final time the class of 2018 will be performing a full-length show as M.F.A. students?

Keim: Sad as all hell. I never want to stop working with these people. Over the last three years we have created such a cohesive "company"; it feels like we can do anything together. We know so much about each other—our ticks, what makes us laugh, what makes us cry—we can pull so much out of each other. It truly is a gift to work with people you feel so connected to; that's where the best work comes from. But the more I think about the connection I've made with these incredibly talented artists, the more I am confident that I'm going to hunt these people down in the future to work with me. This ride ain't over.

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot runs February 22 through March 3 at The Rueff at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco. Click here to purchase tickets.

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