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The dark side of the stage 

Three new plays arrive in time for the Halloween season

There’s an argument to be made that the Biblical tale of Judas is one of the great modern–day horror stories.
Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is one of three plays opening this weekend, and if you think about it, it’s just right for the Halloween season, alongside The Weird and The Rocky Horror Show.

Last Days is like an allegorical blend of the New Testament, Jesus Christ Superstar and Law and Order. Guirgis has imagined a trial in purgatory, in which Judas’ pushy defense attorney argues that he should not be sent to hell.

A motley cast of characters take the witness stand, including Pontius Pilate, Sigmund Freud, Mother Theresa and that old bugaboo himself, Satan.

“It’s laugh–out–loud funny in lots of parts,” says Sharon Ott, who’s directing the SCAD production. “I think that’s Guirgis’ genius. All his plays have that combination of humor and themes that are as deep as they can be.”

The author of  Our Lady of 121st Street and Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, New Yorker Guirgis is one of the shining lights of contemporary theater. The initial off–Broadway production of Last Days was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and starred Sam Rockwell as Judas and Eric Bogosian as Satan.

Guirgis has “re–imagined Biblical characters in a modern, urban context,” Ott says, which means the language in the play can get a bit rough. “I do think that some people won’t be able to get past the juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane that exists in the play. I think it’s a play that’s deeply about faith. One could say that it makes a real case for faith as being the only answer to despair.”

Although it's not a musical, Ott compares Last Days to the current Broadway smash The Book of Mormon. “That’s a musical about belief for unbelievers,” she says. “I think this is another play in that vein — it’s a serious play about faith, and God, for people who question the reality of God and Jesus.

“People seem to want to look at issues of faith and belief. And given the world the way it is, they want to look at it from all sides.”

Last Days, Ott explains, has been embraced by the students of SCAD’s theater department.

“There’s no question that this is very challenging material for student actors,” she says, “but this play actually came to my attention from the students, who had been reading it in one of the Contemporary Theater classes. We’d be working on scenes from the play in various acting classes, and consistently I saw that the students were actually able to not only do it, but they have a kind of freshness of approach that matches the freshness that the writer has. That, I would suspect, is in some ways better for this material than more mature actors might bring.

“The play sounds like them, to them — the deeper sense of spiritual quests, and the deeper sense of betrayal that shows up in Act Two, that’s challenging for people who are only 20 to 21. But they’re doing a great job, and I think the play really sings in their hands.”

 

 Subtitled A Collection of Short Horror and Pulp Plays, Roberrto Aguirre–Sacasa’s The Weird is the spooky–season offering from the Masquers troupe at Armstrong Atlantic State University.

“The best way to explain it is: If you’ve ever seen an episode of Tales From the Crypt, that’s pretty much it,” explains director Hai Dang. “It’s five stories in one. There are little hints in the dialogue that connect them all together, but it’s not like a big plotline that connects them all together.”

The host is one M. T. Grave.

Rod Serling might have written the vignettes, which include “Insect Love,” “Bloody Mary” and “The Ten–Minute Play About Rosemary’s Baby.”

“I came to the realization that we haven’t had a Halloween–centric show at Armstrong in forever,” Dang enthuses. “So I decided now would be a great time to do one.”

The Weird, he says, is formatted very much like the beloved 1982 horror anthology Creepshow. “It’s about regular people who have spooky–ass shit happen to them,” he says.

For his next trick, Aguirre–Sacasa worked on the Broadway interpretations of Spider–Man and American Psycho. He is also a writer and producer for the TV show Glee.

Now that’s scary.

 

What’s left to say about The Rocky Horror Show? It is what it is and what it always has been, and will ever be. A garish, trashy, brightly–colored transsexual musical romp, the cult show above all other cult shows, funny as hell, silly, stupid and, oh yes, a five–star theatrical thrill when it’s in game, enthusiastic hands

For the fourth consecutive year, Bay Street Theatre waves hello to Halloween with a full–out Rocky production. Christopher Blair is back as the protagonist, that rugged individualist Frank N. Furter.

Ah, but this isn’t last year’s Rocky. In the first place, there are two directors, Kimmi Sampieri and Sean McGuire.

“Because we have two different styles, we obviously are looking at it from two different perspectives,” says Sampieri. “He’s definitely a technical kind of guy, and he’s got an incredible knowledge of the lore of Rocky. I, on the other hand, am more like ‘Let’s just have fun.’ It’s a good combination.”

Both are Bay Street veterans who’ve worked behind the scenes in comedy, drama and just about everything else.

“I’m more about ‘what’s your emotion,’ finding your reason, where Sean is more like ‘This has to happen here, because this happens in another scene and it makes sense,” Sampieri explains. “So I think it will make just as much sense as Rocky Horror can. And still have a little bit of raunchiness.

Christopher Stanley returns as musical director — the live band is always part of the fun — and there are three, count ‘em, three choreographers.

The cast also includes Logan Camillo as Brad, Casey Gardner as Janet, Cecelia Arrango as Magenta, Emily Coleman as Columbia, and Leonard Rose as Riff.

Sampieri has a personal stake in making this one special.

“For me, it’s definitely not a competition,” says the California native. “This show means a lot to me — which sounds funny because it’s a cult show — but there’s a lot of significance for me. Like it was my first time out, with friends, after midnight. That kind of thing. And it was my first time ever seeing something that wasn’t conservative in Orange County.”

Everyone, she adds, has their own vision of The Rocky Horror Show. “Sometimes you catch yourself saying ‘Well, I remember we did it like this.’ You don’t necessarily want to do a 180 from that, but you don’t want to be highly influenced from that, either.

“Because you don’t want the same show over and over again.”

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Where: Mondanaro Theatre, 217 MLK

When: At 8 p.m. Thursday–Saturday, Oct. 18–20, at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21

Tickets: $10 general admission, $5 with senior, student or military ID. Oct. 18 performance is  free with a valid SCAD ID.

The Weird

Where: AASU Jenkins Hall, 11935 Abercorn

When: At 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18–21 (you’re asked to be seated by 7:15)

Admission: $10

The Rocky Horror Show

Where: Bay Street Theatre at Club One, 1 Jefferson St.

When: At 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19–21, 26–28, 31; plus an Oct. 31 midnight show

Sunday shows are all ages

Tickets: $20–$25 at clubone–online/shop/rockyhorrorThere's an argu

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About The Author

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung

Bio:
Bill DeYoung was Connect's Arts & Entertainment Editor from May 2009 to August 2014.

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