note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi
Iscariot … Charlie Hughes
Have you ever wondered what really happened to Judas Iscariot? According to Tony Barrow’s one-man, one-act ISCARIOT (courtesy of Ireland’s No Alternative Company), Christ’s betrayer and the most reviled Jew in history is still among us, having sold out to the Devil long ago to forever remain a 38-year-old man, adopting various personas through the centuries and flagellating himself to atone for his (and our?) sins.
The program stated that ISCARIOT is Mr. Barrow’s first play, and it did show a beginner’s hand --- all burning arias, no cooling recitatives. Mr. Barrow may defend such intensity since Iscariot is confined to his own private hell; still, I’ve always pictured eternal damnation to be equal parts boredom and apathy as well as torture (the void as well as the flame), and such variety would not only have given ISCARIOT some texture but some badly-needed respite to his overtaxed actor. The 50-minute performance took a good 15 minutes before it started to jell: who was that shaven-head, haunted man in that stark black set, chained and whipping himself as red lights slowly pierced through the incense smoke? A Holocaust victim? A psychotic who believes himself to be Judas? He looked and sounded not at all Semitic or Biblical. Gradually we learned that, yes, this was our Judas, now (conveniently) in the guise of a contemporary Irishman. Several quibbles: Mr. Barrow’s Iscariot declared that his Betrayal was a pact between Christ and himself --- they would split the blood money afterwards (HUH?); the now-immortal Iscariot stuck a fork into his forearm, drawing blood, to show he no longer felt pain, which went against the flagellations that opened and closed the play; Iscariot claimed ‘twas he himself who held up the vinegar-soaked sponge to Christ on the Cross; and, most ambiguously, Iscariot’s first encounter with the Devil: the latter caught him about to masturbate after not having made love for 200 years --- had Iscariot already hung himself and was now in Limbo? (There was no mention of his hanging, anywhere.) There were a few passages that linger still in my memory --- Iscariot saying that he was originally well-liked and made people laugh; his fathering 30 children through the centuries and surviving them all --- and some that were written ŕ clef (Iscariot being raped by another man --- where? when? why?). On the plus side, Mr. Barrow’s wordplay bubbled and scalded as no doubted intended; in its anguished way, ISCARIOT was a tour-de-force and Mr. Barrow was fortunate to have the whole-hearted cooperation of one Charlie Hughes, his Iscariot.
Charlie Hughes is a graduate of The Gaiety School of Acting, Ireland’s leading training facility for actors. He originated the role of Iscariot for Dublin’s Fringe Festival and has since been touring with it --- may St. Genesius bless Mr. Hughes for his stamina, for Mr. Barrow has him sprinting through the rings of the Inferno; at the play’s end, a spent man took his bows before me. And yet I was unmoved by Mr. Hughes’ performance --- partly because Mr. Barrow allowed him no quiet moments (nor did director Patrick Sutton bother to dig for them), partly because Mr. Hughes burrowed so far into his role that he came out the other side as Mr. Hughes again. I saw no Iscariot but a well-trained man putting his all into getting through this role, blazing with sweat and actually foaming at the mouth (great white gobs, which Mr. Hughes refused to wipe away --- as the late Gilda Radner once said, those gobs are all you will notice --- and the lady was right).
The result was not unlike watching a performer in one of today’s killer musicals, only minus the score --- I had no sense of either Iscariot as a character or Mr. Hughes as an actor and, with my disbelief once again unsuspended, I became aware of other things: a new piece of canvas, covered with key years in Iscariot’s life, needs to stretched across the stage for each performance (Iscariot smears red paint over it); are the stage hands able to scrub the spilled paint off the floor afterwards, and does Mr. Hughes need a nightly rubdown with lotion? (After his first self-flagellation, Mr. Hughes’ poor shoulders and back remained sunburn-pink.)
According to the program, Mr. Barrow has written a companion piece --- MAGDALEN --- which will also debut at Dublin’s Fringe Festival. Will it be cool and sweet compared to ISCARIOT’s hot and fiery? If so, they should compliment each other nicely.