For nearly two years, theatre lovers have felt entrapped in their own little purgatories.  Artists have been unable to perform on stages, and audiences been left peering through screens to get their dose of magic. Although online theatre has made strides and offered new dimensions to theatrical experiences, there’s nothing quite like performing in and witnessing a show live.

(from left) Zakk Milne as the Bailiff, Luke Huffman as Judge Littlefield, and Sammie Marett as Pontius Pilate. Set and costume design by Kelly Wolf, lighting design by Sandra Marcroft. At top: Frankie Turco as Satan. Photos by Julie Luth. 

Well, the wait is finally over, and it is quite fitting that the return to Brock University’s live and in-person productions begins with Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, set in an imagined purgatory where Judas Iscariot is on trial for his betrayal of Jesus. Toronto-based director Leighton Williams has led a company of Brock Dramatic Arts students through this bold material, with the support of DART’s production staff. I spoke to a number of students involved the production to find out what the experience was like, and what’s in store for audiences.

Jane Smith as Fabiana Aziza Cunningham, the lawyer defending Judas Iscariot. Photo by Julie Luth. 

Isaiah Alton as prosecuting attorney Yusuf El-Fayoumy. Photo by Julie Luth.

Actor Jane Smith explained the premise of Guirgis’s play: “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot allows audiences to have front row seats as the jury… When the case of Judas Iscariot is called and ultimately included on the docket, witnesses with different past lives, careers, and reputations cycle in and out of the courtroom.”

The show doesn’t specify a decade, or even century that it belongs to – the setting is a courtroom in purgatory, a place where time isn’t linear. However, this particular production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot has a more contemporary feel, especially with the technical elements.

Sound designer Alex Sykes noted how this meant that, rather than taking pieces of audio (such as a song) from a time period, he had to conceptualize the sound and create his own soundscapes for the show. “I spent a lot of time playing and editing/adapting different software instruments and sounds to try and find the right pieces,” he said. Sykes’ work resulted in the use of a variety of sounds and scores for the show, from piano to computer-generated audio.

(from left) Zakk Milne as the Bailiff, Luke Huffman as Judge Littlefield, and Bianca Taylor as Mother Teresa. Photo by Julie Luth. 

Julian Corlett, assistant head of wardrobe, described costume designer Kelly Wolf’s approach: “Some of the historical figures have costumes that look very similar to what they would’ve worn when they were alive, like Mother Teresa for example. There’s definitely that push and pull when modernizing things based on historical fact and religious iconography. I think the show has a really nice balance of clothing you’d see on the streets and historical dress,” she said.

Corlett also was able to both create and modify existing pieces herself, alongside assistant costume designer Ilona Rodriguez Reed. “[We] worked together on the horsemen looks and we got to play with different silhouettes. Some of the inspiration behind that came from elements of goth and cyberpunk,” Corlett noted.

Frankie Turco as Satan. Photo by Julie Luth. 

Alyssa Ruddock, who plays the role of Henrietta Iscariot, spoke about the use of the contemporary language in the show and its effect. “Many characters use modern references… others stay more towards their history based on facts. It makes us question what we do know about history and how easy we are to make assumptions.”

Alyssa Ruddock as Henrietta Iscariot and Simon Bell as Judas Iscariot. Photo by Edgar Harris. 

Smith offered up some hints about surprises the audience can look forward to. “Just when you think you know what is coming – the unexpected happens,” she said. She and other cast members mention comedy, dancing, and a broad range of emotions. According to Ruddock, what audiences can expect is “to laugh, cry, and be together.”

Luke Huffman as Judge Littlefield and (at right) Lucas Irving as Sigmund Freud. Photo by Julie Luth.

Be together – bodies are finally able to sit in the Marilyn I. Walker Theatre and witness a production. The wait has come to an end. Step by step, cautious measures must be taken to ensure safety as audiences are welcomed back to the building. This production, as with anything happening on the university campuses right now, falls under Brock’s pandemic mandates. Anyone entering the building will be asked to show proof of vaccination and will be required to wear a mask.

Smith’s excitement around being back in the theatre with her castmates could not be contained. “I have been building my craft as an actor for so long in the realm of live theatre,” she said. “The biggest change I have now is resituating myself back into this realm after being online for over a year. It is a good and exciting change – one that I was ready for.”

Benoit St-Aubin (left) as Butch, with Simon Bell as Judas, and Celine Zamidar as Jesus embracing him. Photo by Julie Luth. 

Ruddock is having a different experience, as this is the first production she’s worked on as an actor in years, having focused on stage management in her time at DART. “I’ve had to allow myself to be openly vulnerable and up front along this journey, making discoveries every day, in the moment,” said Ruddock. “It’s been a rollercoaster but I’m so grateful for Leighton’s guidance along the way.”

Celine Zamidar as Jesus. Photo by Julie Luth. 

Ruddock had the unique experience of working inside the Marilyn I. Walker Theatre during last year’s fall Mainstage, Scenes from an Execution. As assistant stage manager, she worked alongside Sykes, who was sound operator, in delivering a live digital production. Sykes couldn’t be happier to be working with anin-house audience again. “I know how the audience is hearing the show – through the speakers that we deliberately placed throughout the room and not on headphones, or computer speakers, or a TV, or their phone, or a 7.1 surround home theatre sound system… There’s only one way to listen to this show so I can cater the experience exactly how it’s wanted.”

(from left) Isaiah Alton as El-Fayoumy, Luke Huffman as Judge Littlefield, and Violet Brown as Caiaphas the Elder. Photo by Julie Luth. 

Corlett brought up the beauty of simply being surrounded by people. “We get to see all of the lovely faces coming and going. It’s also nice to have a few extra hands on deck, especially on a show this size.”

Hayley King (left) as Saint Monica and Maiya Irwin as Mary Magdalene. Photo by Julie Luth. 

This play was described by more than one of my interviewees as electric, sexy, and dynamic. Its power seems to be magnetic, making it the perfect show to welcome guests back into the Marilyn I. Walker Theatre.

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot plays at the Marilyn I. Walker Theatre on October 29-30 and November 5-6 at 7:30 pm; October 31 at 2 pm; and November 5 at 11:30 am. Tickets at

Frankie Turco as Satan (left), Lucas Irving (in the background) as War, Violet Brown as Death (foreground), Hayley King as Pestilence (background, with braid), Maiya Irwin as Famine (right), and Simon Bell behind her as Judas. Photo by Julie Luth. 

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