In Furnace theatre has brought some fresh productions to the Montreal stage over the last three years, including Stone Cold Dead Serious about a dysfunctional family and Fuddy Mears about a woman with no memory. Tonight, at the Mainline, they’ll be offering a staged reading of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (famously staged Off-Broadway by Philip Seymour Hoffman!). I talked to In Furnace’s artistic director, founder, and often director Stuart Fink about the show.
“Judas is one of the most notorious men in history,” Fink says. I ask him to explain the premise and he obliges. “Judas has been in hell for 2000 years after betraying Jesus and it’s a whole courtroom drama about whether or not he has served his time, should he be allowed into heaven. There are witnesses on both sides from historical figures from Jesus’ time, like the saints and Satan to expert witnesses who speak on the values or merits of goodness.”
Mother Theresa, Sigmund Freud, and many others make an appearance.
“They’re fantastic characters. Stephen puts a great twist on these venerable historical figures,” says Fink. “They all speak with a modern slang and dialect. A lot have very broad, very different backgrounds and you hear that in the text. It puts a great spin on these characters from history.”
The performance is a staged reading. There is no set, no costumes, no fussy lighting. “Instead of having them around music stands, they’re going to be much more engaged,” says Fink. “They’ll be moving around the space and exploring like they would in a rehearsal.”
The play has a large cast with 15 actors taking on 27 different roles. Fink was able to call on Montreal’s outstanding talent pool and a few others who happened to be in the city to help out. “It’s a tremendous cast. The community was so willing to help us out. They’re all donating their time and it’s been an incredible team that has come together,” Fink says.
The fact the play is a staged reading, rather than a full production makes this possible. In fact, just a few days before the play, he had cast members in Haitii and British Columbia. “I love the idea of doing a large cast reading. It’s so hard to do a large cast in a full production – financially, organizationally. It’s hard at the independent level. So, having a reading with so many people involved was a real blast for me. There’s a sense of community.”
Some of the people who are taking on roles include people who run independent theatre companies in the city. Alison Darcy and Mike Payette are just two familiar names involved. Other locals include Jen Viens, Nadia Verrucci, and David Chiazzese. There are also people who Fink met in other areas of the film world, such as Harry Stanjofsky. “I only worked with him one day on a film, on the last day of a shooting a movie. He’s a hilarious man.” Fink praises the whole cast highly saying, “They’re really intelligent voices. They are theatre artists and creators and helped a lot in getting this show on its feet, in asking questions as to how can we tell this story in as clear a way as possible, without sets, costumes, and lights.”
I asked Fink why he chose this play over any other. “There are two reasons,” he says. “First off I love the play itself. I love what the play says and how it deals with guilt and right or wrong. It delves deeply into that. People talk about whether Judas wants to be let out of hell or not. Is that an assumption? Is hell really a self punishment? If he forgave himself, could he go to heaven immediately? I love the concept of guilt.”
The second reason is the language of the play. “Stephen wrote this one in 2006. He is one of the best modern playwrights we have. He can find the poetry in our everyday language. He has such a fine grasp on writing in a way that we all understand and connect to. It hits us with evocative imagery. It drags us deep down into the pits of hell. He has a grasp of contemporary language.”
The show is being held as a fundraiser for In Furnace Theatre. “It’s to fund future projects and ensure the company’s health for the year,” Fink says. “This fundraiser will cover some leftover expenses from our previous production.”
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is the last time to catch In Furnace Theatre before they go quite for awhile. Both Fink and his co-founder Elizabeth Prévost will be away for awhile. “This is a great opportunity for myself and Elizabeth to say good bye to the community for awhile,” says Fink. “It’s a chance to enjoy a beautiful story and for us to thank the community for supporting us for the last three years. We were only growing with each show, our attendance and quality was always going up. We went through some mistakes and learned from them. This is our way of saying goodbye and thank you.”
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a pretty sweet deal at $10 at the Mainline Theatre on September 3, 8 p.m.