Saturday, April 25, 2015

A 2010 Exchange With Pulitzer Prize-Winning Dramatist Stephen Adly Guirgis

The Pulitzer committee announced its 2015 prizes this past week, awarding its prize in drama to Stephen Adly Guirgis for Between Riverside and Crazy.

Back in 2010, I had a brief exchange with Guirgis on this very blog. He had objected to comments I had penned in 2006 regarding an earlier play of his, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot -- arguably, my first published piece of theater criticism. While I conceded that the play was filled with the sorts of monologues that actors enjoy performing, I considered the play to be poorly structured, and narratively incoherent, as well as containing a pronounced undercurrent of hipster misogyny (because sexual harassment of women is edgy and cool!) and old-school antisemitism: Most notably the Deicide charge that the Jews are to be held responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth (a doctrine explicitly rejected by the Second Vatican Council with the 1965 publication of Nostra Aetate).

The play takes place in a courtroom in the afterlife in which the defense attorney for Judas Iscariot (whom many scholars believe to be a fictitious character whom the Gospel writers created to personify "the perfidious Jews") tries to overturn his eternal damnation -- her strategy is to pin the crime of the crucifixion on another individual -- and since the Roman military governor, Pontius Pilate has washed his hands of responsibility, she ends up trying to pin the crime on another Jew: Caiaphas, the high priest of the Second Temple.

Some point over the years, Guirgis got wind of my critique, and while he was willing to concede that The Last Days of Judas Iscariot might not be the best written play (he wrote "My play is wildly imperfect, [with] lots and lots of flaws"), he objected to my characterization of the play as anti-Semitic (" I can assure you it was not written in hate. It was written, in all it's imperfection, with love.") Perhaps his intent was muddled by the structural problems in the play. Oddly, he never really addressed my concerns about misogyny.

You can read the whole exchange here.

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