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STAGE REVIEW

Solid performances sag in drawn-out 'Last Days'

``The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" is set in purgatory. With nearly three hours of overinflated rhetoric, flabby structure, and sketchy characterization, it feels just like the real thing.

This is disappointing, because the premise -- a trial to determine whether Judas really deserves eternal damnation -- seemed promising enough, especially for Stephen Adly Guirg i s, who's scored with other plays on religious themes, including ``Jesus Hopped the `A' Train" and ``Our Lady of 121st Street." And Company One, the bold fringe group that's presenting the Boston premiere of ``Judas," did right by those two; the company's `` `A' Train" won an Elliot Norton award.

This production, though, sinks under its own weight. Company One provides some very strong performances, including artistic director Shawn LaCount's Sinatra of a Satan, Juanita Rodrigues's trash-talking Saint Monica, Nael Nacer's gentle Jesus, and, especially, Cliff Odle's resonant, imperious Pontius Pilate. The production values are also solid, from Meaghan Dutton's blood-tinged lighting to Joy Adams's biblical-hipster costumes. But Summer L. Williams's direction too often goes slack, as perhaps anyone's would with the meandering length and uninspired language of some of the speeches.

Part of the problem is that we get the point much faster than anyone onstage seems to: Judas may have been doing God's will by setting in motion the crucifixion that would become the basis of Christianity.

Guirgis makes other arguments, too, as when Judas's attorney calls Sigmund Freud as one of the trial's many witnesses. Freud's line of defense: Judas was mentally ill, and ``any God who would punish the mentally ill is not worth worshiping."

Well, fine. Guirgis has some good ideas, and he is certainly capable of writing both funny and profound lines. He just doesn't supply enough of them to make up for the long, arid stretches in between. And his Judas (played by Raymond Ramirez) is too incompletely imagined to hold center stage.

The play is also not as wild and inventive in its thinking as it would have you believe; anyone who has considered the problem of Judas for more than five minutes (even before the recent news about his previously unknown ``Gospel") could come up with all its arguments, and more besides. So to be bludgeoned with them, hour after tedious hour, is simply more than any sinner deserves.

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