REVIEW: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Have you ever had your stomach hurt from laughing so hard one second and then holding your breath, trying not to cry the next second? That was me Friday night as I sat in the Arthur Miller Theatre, a room completely tense and enraptured as it awaited the judgment on Judas Iscariot — a traitor, a follower, a son, an enemy, a friend, a betrayer, a human.

I read The Last Days of Judas Iscariot in my creative writing class last semester, so I already knew how good this play was. Stephen Adly Guirgis’s ability to craft a work that is simultaneously light and heavy is a marvel in of itself, and one I greatly appreciated when I studied it.

However, I was not prepared for SMTD’s production of this play. This 18-person cast found itself waddling through a script as dense as osmium and managed to give the theater a collective headache that was frequently alleviated with the hearty laughter that this play relies on to carry its extremely deep message.

As a contemporary play, the updated references from 2005 in the script, as well as the wardrobe and music choices, brought a fresh take on this still-relevant work that is religious in every aspect and completely more than religion at the same time.

Everyone put their heart, mind, and soul into their character, and their dominant presence on the stage made the stage disappear and brought these characters to life. They nailed every monologue (and boy, were those some monologues!) and beat and intricate detail of a personality that made each character unique.

In purgatory, we catch glimpses of complex souls and the competing narratives of stories and the duality of humanity. The dynamic between the short-tempered judge struggling to find his truth and the incompetent and innocent bailiff struggling to find an acceptable case for the judge was hilariously captured by Ben Ahlers and Josh Strobl as Strobl ran around trying to appease the demands being barked at him.

The courtroom atmosphere was enhanced by the questioning that the condescending, flirtatious El-Fayoumy and the cold, determined Cunningham intensely fired back and forth. Alexander Sherwin made me comically uncomfortable with his over-the-top approach to law and flattery, and Kat Ward’s command of the courtroom in his presence was a victory for all women. Speaking of women — Mikaela Secada completely dominated the fierce and sassy Saint Monica, and her scene is a beautiful example of the complexity of the nature of emotions an individual can harbor, her nagging attitude and honest compassion making her monologue surprisingly and ultimately human.

The penultimate scene with Judas and Jesus is heartwrenching. As Liam Allen and Mason Reeves explored the depths of despair in a plea just imploring for love and forgiveness, I felt my heart stop and time froze as the pure emotions being displayed on the stage was too much and too real. Allen and Reeves completely nailed this powerful moment, and their sincerity and intensity made this play that much harder to watch and grapple with — which is a testimony to the entire cast’s talent and ability.

We make our own choices. And those choices inherently include sins. What we do with those sins — the emotional acceptance necessary of our actions — is also up to us. If anything is to come afterward, we must first be able to forgive ourselves and believe in ourselves before we can look around for forgiveness from others and believe in others.

I could go on and on about this production and the cast and crew, but I recommend you go see it for yourself. This authentically raw performance by SMTD is one that will forever be stuck in my heart as I continue to wrestle with the moral, philosophical, theological, and psychological problems this humorous and dramatic masterpiece poses and this cast so wonderfully performed .

REVIEW: Joshua Bell & Sam Haywood

A strange image came to me on Saturday night, while I was watching Joshua Bell walk out across the stage of Hill Auditorium for the first time. The vast auditorium was packed with people — some college-age, many adults — and a sweeping wave of applause rolled across the many rows and balconies at the sight of him coming out. I had been to Hill Auditorium once before, to see the Avett Brothers my freshman year. For some reason, the thought occurred to me of how different it was, watching Joshua Bell walk onto the stage versus watching the Avett Brothers — or any musical group in the popular sphere with a large following — do the same thing. There were no whoops or hollers or screams of, “I love you, Joshua!” He walked slowly and professionally, violin in hand. The thought struck me out of nowhere and seemed like a funny one.

Yet in the world of classical music, Joshua Bell is the equivalent of a rock star. He’s been one of the most famous violinists in the world for years, and has played at numerous enviable venues around the globe. So while they weren’t leaping out of their seats or holding up signs with his name on them, the audience members did burst collectively into a roaring applause when they saw him.

And he didn’t disappoint. The first item on the program was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Violin Sonata No. 32 in B-flat Major, K. 454,” which starts out very calmly. I was surprised at the soft, understated nature of the performance, but the piece soon picked up in excitement and speed. And no matter what the mood, Bell and Sam Haywood, renowned pianist and Bell’s fellow performer, were able to handle it with deftness and grace. The violin sonata was at turns playful and dreamy, energetic and tender. It was splendidly interesting to watch as Bell and Haywood appeared to trade phrases of the piece off between the two of them; one moment Bell’s playing would be more pronounced, with Haywood’s piano muted softly in the background, and the next, it would be the other way around.

This pattern continued throughout the rest of the concert. The next piece they played was Richard Strauss’s “Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18,” which they approached with the same level of attentiveness, care, and passion. Bell moved around the stage a great deal, seeming to feel the music physically during particularly enlivened moments. Bell and Haywood, who have played together on many occasions during the past, continued to blend their respective sounds together seamlessly, responding to one another in volume and time as if they were having a genuine conversation through their music.

The third piece on the program, and the final listed prior to the concert, was Franz Schubert’s “Fantasie for Violin and Piano in C Major, D. 934.” This piece showcased the same skill and emotion, and it was an added pleasure when, following an encore, Bell announced two additional pieces from the stage. Much like a rock star, he closed out the night with encores and wild applause. When all was said and done, the auditorium was as alive with excitement as it had been waiting for him to come out for the first time a couple of hours earlier. He might not play rock music particularly, but the man is unquestionably a star.

PREVIEW: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Anyone familiar with the Bible, and even those who aren’t, know the tale of Judas Iscariot, or are at least familiar with this name that has gone down in infamy. The Great Traitor. The ultimate betrayal. Beware of a Judas kiss.

But what if his story isn’t as simple as we thought? What if there’s a lot more to it? What if he’s not the sinner the Bible paints him to be?

Stephen Adly Guirgis unravels the life behind this character — this person — who is so commonly villainized and possibly misunderstood. With special appearances from St. Matthew, Mother Teresa, Sigmund Freud, Pontius Pilate, and, of course, Satan himself, the story of this court case questions exactly what it means to be guilty and what it means to achieve redemption.

SMTD is putting on a student production of this play that delves deep into the flaws of humanity and the decisions that are made. Come to the Arthur Miller Theatre on February 15-18 to watch Judas’s ultimate fate be determined. Showtimes are at 7:30pm, 8pm, or 2pm with tickets at $12 with a student ID or $20 for general admission that can be purchased at or at the Michigan League Ticket Office.


REVIEW: Dancing Globally

Before Dancing Globally, I hadn’t been to a modern dance performance in years. It had been so long that I honestly couldn’t really even remember what to expect. When the lights dimmed, I looked over at my friend in the darkness and grinned, with the excited feeling of being on the first side of a mystery.

As soon as the curtains opened, both of us could tell we were in for something exciting. The first performance, probably my favorite of the four, featured a semicircle of dancers wearing suits. Each dancer had a chair that they used as kind of a prop, and throughout most of the performance, hardly anyone moved very far away from their chair. This is part of what made the choreography so creative: not only were they interacting with the chairs in unique ways, they also managed to make it feel as though they were interacting with each other—and with us, the audience.

My favorite part, though, was the suit aspect. Throughout the performance, they removed aspects of the suit one by one—the jacket, the hat, even the pants—all except for one standalone dancer at the very edge.

The costumes ended up being a standout part of the entire night; the third piece, for instance, was completely different, but still striking in part because of its visual aspect. The dancers were performing against a backdrop of projected flowers, and they all wore vibrant, colorful outfits. This gave me the semi-subconscious impression that maybe the dancers themselves were meant to represent flowers, or something like flowers. This interpretation was reinforced toward the end, when three of the dancers stood under a stream of water that looked like an actual spring from the natural world, transplanted onto the stage.

The final piece was definitely more somber than the rest, with shaded, semi-uniform costumes and dim, melancholic lighting. However, it was still entrancing to watch, in part due to the constantly shifting nature of the choreography and the “scene” unfolding on the stage. It was definitely a powerful closing piece for the night.

Dancing Globally was a welcome representation of the work being done in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, in part because of its sheer variety and in part because of the balance it was able to strike between engaging and thought-provoking. Overall, the night was definitely a success, and I look forward to attending more dance performances in the future.

PREVIEW: Dancing Globally

This Saturday I’ll go to a theater that that holds more than a thousand people and watch some of the talented students from the Dance Department, who I’ve never seen perform before. Having never been exposed to modern dance, I know seeing Dancing Globally is a promising first modern dance program to attend because of my friend who is in it, who has been practicing tirelessly.
Dancing Globally, already shown Thursday February 1st and Friday February 2nd, will be shown Saturday February 3rd at 8PM and Sunday February 4th at 2PM at the Power Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets can be purchased for a variety of prices here.

REVIEW: Violet

Looking for something to do to help you forget about the stress of exams and assignments this weekend?  Violet is the perfect musical to do just that!  The University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, & Dance brought to life this story that has hilarious, beautiful, and heartbreaking moments interwoven in.  Even on a Thursday night, the audience was completely standing at the end after being left speechless.

Violet is about a young woman (Natalie Duncan) whose face was disfigured when her dad (Jamie Colburn) accidentally hit her with an axe.  She grew up her whole life with people staring at her scar, or even worse, refusing to look her in the face.  She finally decides to travel to meet a television preacher (Ben Ahlers) who she hopes will heal her scar.  Along the way she meets Flick (Justin Showell) and Monty (Charlie Patterson), two soldiers on the road.

Natalie’s voice couldn’t have been any more fitting for the role of Violet.  One must have a decent Southern accent and some killer vocal chords to captivate the audience; and she did just that.  The audience was laughing while she was singing “All to Pieces”, about how she wants her physical features changed up like those of celebrities.  They got chills during the strong performance of “On My Way” done by the cast.  And they sobbed during Violet’s solo of “Look at Me”.

I typically recommend shows here and there to see, but this one cannot be missed.  It is such a beautiful story with a cast who did not disappoint.  The expected, but still shocking, amount of talent in this show blew the audience away.

There are still three shows left at the Arthur Miller Theatre: 12/9 at 2pm and 8pm, and 12/10 at 2pm.  Tickets are $20 for General Admission and $12 for Students with ID.  More information can be found at