Monthly Archives: March 2008

While I’ve Been Busy

I’ve been very busy over at my full time gig producing a workshop of a musical and getting ready for another Biblical play. It’s been sad to be away from rehearsals for Judas, just popping my head in once a week. But while I’ve been busy elsewhere the cast of Judas has been hard at work memorizing. And they have a huge job before them. There is a lot of language in this play and Guirgis’ writing is precise. Every word, every space, coma and period is planned and necessary.  At the moment the actors are less worried about the historical references and religious questions and focused on getting the lines down. There is still plenty of time to delve into issues as we get closer to opening but for now the main issue is the one that involves avoiding line notes.

This weekends rehearsal is about the pieces of the show coming together so expect another post from me early next week.

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Manipulating the Past

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Alexander Strain and Jesse Terrill in The Memorandum

Just read this article in the NY Times that I found very interesting; especially in context to the discussions that are surrounding our current season’s shows.  The article is about how historical context and presentation can be manipulated in “historical” plays.  This is something that I, as a director, am very interested in lately.  In Antigone, we played with time period in a way that left us open for a more broad interpretation of its political/social meanings.  The same technique was applied to The Memorandum and Hamletmachine, as well.  My feeling is that when you “shoehorn” a play with over-bearing concept (“koncept”, with a “k”, as we often refer to it~), you limit the possibilities of what the story can achieve and how it can reach an individual.

The same thoughts, I’m sure, went in to the writing of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, as it turns our conceptions of historical accuracy on its head by finding new, and often un-orthodox (pardon the term) means of representation.  The same can be said for our summer show, Marat/Sade, where the time period is merely a jumping-off point for a broader discussion of social injustice throughout time.

Check it out—what do you guys think?

Reading Material

As rehearsals go on I get daily questions from director and actors. The questions have varied from “What is the head Pharisee?  How do they relate to the Sadducee’s?” to “What is your interpretation of ‘Pimps up, hos down’?”

A number of different sources have to be readily available for me to answer. I refuse to have my only source be wikipedia (as helpful as it can be). There are a few sources that are particularly helpful to me right now. Of course my handy Oxford Study Bible is sitting to my left, pages tagged with post-it notes, passages underlined in pencil. On my right is Daily Life in Palestine at the Time of Christ. It’s been particularly helpful in rounding out the physical life of the Biblical stories as well as the details of Jewish life at the time.  Behind me by my bed is The Lost Gospel about the recently discovered Coptic Gnostic Gospel of Judas. Though the book published by National Geographic is in some ways an Indiana Jones like story of discovery, thievery and the business of antiquities, it also gives some clue as to the historical viewing of Judas.  I have also grown very very fond of Urbandictionary.com.

My answers to the questions above below the jump. Continue reading

Litigation in the After-Life

Now Hope, it changes with the times, but has stood always as God’s gift to the last of his children. It is said that in every civilization rearranges the cosmic furniture differently. In biblical times, Hope was an Oasis in the Desert. In medieval times, a shack free of Plague. Today, Hope is no longer a place for contemplation- litigation being the preferred new order of the day.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Stephen Adly Guirgis

The after-life has frequently been portrayed as a trial. After all, death in Christian tradition tends to be associated with Judgment, a person’s deeds looked at after death and their place in heaven or hell secured. It’s not surprising that contemporary artists take the idea of holy judgment and put it in the modern court room context that they are more familiar with. In The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, it is Judas on trial and the extent of holy forgiveness in question.
In the 1946 movie A Matter of Life or Death a British pilot fights in an after-life court to regain his life. This amazing film, one of my all time favorites, is by the genius film making team of Powell and Pressburger. Heaven is a black & white regimented world and life is lush and colorful. In this scene David Niven heads up to heaven on a giant escalator planning his trial:
There is also the 1991 movie Defending Your Life with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep.  In this scene Albert is on trial and watches a clip of his life:
Any more heavenly trials you can think of?

Figuring Out the Devil

SATAN: I don’t believe in Good and Bad. What I believe in is Truth.
CUNNINGHAM: Fine. According to Job and Nehemiah, God created you in the first three days. True?
SATAN: True.

CUNNINGHAM: According to Genesis and Ezekiel, you then tempted Eve to eat the Apple in order to prove to God that He had made an error in giving Man dominion over the Earth. At which point, according to Luke, you then “Fell from Heaven like lightning” and became God’s Adversary. And ever since that day, you have competed for Souls with God in order to try to prove the point that Man is not worthy to rule over the Earth. Isn’t that true, Mister Satan?!
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Stephen Adly Guirgis

I have never spent much time focusing on the figure of Satan. In Jewish tradition, Satan doesn’t have the power or fear factor as is found in Christian theology.  So I was grateful to Guirgis for writing the sources directly into his speeches. To my surprise, most of those sources were from the old testament: Genesis, Nehemiah, Ezekiel and Job. So yesterday, I went through and reread those books. I was already aware of the role of the “Adversary” in Job but didn’t remember seeing a fallen angel in the other books. So I read through them. Still nothing. I saw angels here and there, I saw troubles for man, but nowhere did I see a dark angel causing trouble for man. I turned to the other resource at my fingertips: google. On websites, usually run by fundamentalist Christian groups, I found the correct passages named.

Genesis: Creation. We are all familiar with Adam and Eve, the snake, the apple, the expulsion from Eden. Sure. Now, I was unaware that the snake was Satan. I have read as much in Christian texts but I had never been aware that Genesis itself could prove it. The quote pointed to: Genesis 3:1 The serpent, which was the most cunning of all the creatures the LORD God had made, asked the woman… Now, I’m sorry but I don’t get it. The text says, the serpent is a creature, not an angel, not a spirit but a creature made by God.

Nehemiah. A book I admit I haven’t spent much time reading in the Past. Nehemiah wrote about his visits to Jerusalem about Jews after the Persian exile and destruction of the temple. So what does he have to say about Satan. Well, according to Christian theology, You alone are the Lord:/You created the heavens,/the highest heavens with all their host…You give life to them all, and the heavenly host worships you. (Nehemiah 9:6) And once more, I don’t get it. I just don’t.  Yes, this is about the creation of angels (the host of heaven) but is there anything about a darker side, about a specific adversarial angel? Nope.

I appointed a towering cherub as your guardian; you were on God’s holy mountain and you walked proudly among stones of fire. You were blameless in your ways from the day of your birth until iniquity came to you…I brought you down in disgrace from the mountain of God, and the guardian cherub banished you from among the stones that flashed like fire. Ezekiel 28:14-16
The “you” in this passage is mankind. A towering cherub, sure, that could be a strong angel before the fall. The cherub was placed to watch over man. Man was innocent until iniquity came. Iniquity, another name for Satan? Nope, not really. Was the guardian cherub banished after man’s fall? Nope, the guardian cherub did the banishing.

Do you see my difficulty? Do you see my confusion? I just can’t follow these sources. In trying to figure out the character of Satan I want to understand these passages as an explanation, but when the Satan of the play answers ‘True’ to the lawyer Cunningham, I doubt. From my reading of these texts there is no truth found there. It never says what Cunningham describes it saying. I just don’t see it.

I wonder if I grew up Christian if I would read these texts differently. Are there Christian glasses one can put on where you see an altered text? Please, Christian readers, help me. Do you see Satan in these words? I want to believe in the Devil. I do. But I just don’t see it.

Oh, and in case you are curious all biblical translations come from The Oxford Study Bible so it’s not that I’m reading a ‘Jewish’ translation.