The Controversy of Valladolid | The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

‘The controversy' & ‘judas iscariot'

Utter the words “theatrical” and “trial” these days, and four-fifths of the populace will think of Michael Jackson. But a world away from that media circus, an off-Broadway theater has been giving the concept of courtroom theater a far different and more high-minded spin. Within the space of a week, in February, New York’s Public Theater opened The Controversy of Valladolid, by Jean-Claude Carrière, and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, by Stephen Adly Guirgis-two noteworthy dramas that use the scenario of a tribunal to probe the mysteries of creation and salvation.

That sounds like a pretty strenuous exercise, and indeed, neither play caters to theatergoers craving light entertainment. Carrière’s work (which ran through March 13) concerns a sixteenth-century ecclesiastical argument; Guirgis’s (extended through April 3) explores the moral culpability of Jesus’s treacherous disciple. Both scripts allude to the Old and New Testaments and the oeuvres of various philosophers; both deliberately leave the theatergoer in a place of spiritual discomfort.

The perturbation is a little easier to define in the case of The Controversy, an ingeniously cynical play that feels timely, despite its costume-drama trappings. Originally written in French by Carrière (author of the legendary stage version of The Mahabharata and numerous screenplays, including the recent Nicole Kidman vehicle Birth), the play has been...

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About the Author

Celia Wren is Commonweal’s media and stage critic.