According to the Biblical story of Judith, the beautiful widow delivers the people of Bethulia from the villainous Assyrian general Holofernes, who laid siege to the city. By cleverly gaining access into the army’s camp by claiming she wants to join their forces, Judith is admitted into Holofernes private tent, where she beheads him and saves her people.
However, in Howard Barker’s “Judith,” as performed by The Opposite of People (TOOP) on Thursday, Nov. 4 in the Drama House, Judith comes across as slightly less pious and virtuous. Rather, she seems desperately willing to please with a few maniacal tendencies thrown into the mix.
When Judith, played by senior Jessica Chinelli, enters Holofernes’ (sophomore Emma Caldwell) tent, it is like a scene out of “Pretty Woman.” The Servant, played by sophomore Raymond Liang, acts as a dealer between Holofernes and Judith, balancing Holofernes’s fickle desires with how far Judith is willing to go.
The transformation that occurs in Judith in the play is particularly interesting. At the onset, Judith knows what her purpose is in relation to Holofernes, when she states outright, “I came to fuck.” However, when Holofernes finally makes up his mind and commands Judith to strip, she loses her nerve and refuses him.
In order to pacify Holofernes, Judith starts talking with him, and coerces him to reveal more of himself as an individual to avoid his wrath. Unfortunately, as Judith learns more about Holofernes’ depressing childhood, she begins to see him as a wounded, lonely man, rather than as the dictator he is.
Chinelli does an excellent job of transitioning from the tentative Judith at the beginning, to one overcome by passion for Holofernes in the middle, and ultimately the overpowering Judith at the end — she claims her glory, although she does not actually succeed in killing Holofernes herself.
A moment of madness shines through when Judith explains her love for Holofernes to the Servant, after he has taken the initiative to kill Holofernes when Judith will not. Lying beside the dead Holofernes, Judith attempts to arouse him by rubbing his genitals, to the general discomfort of the audience.
Then at the play’s close, Judith shows how unstoppable she has become when she asserts her control over the Servant by informing him that, “I will carry the head. And whatever story I tell of how it happened, is the truth.”
Throughout the first half of the show, before the really weighty material comes in, Liang’s character serves largely as comic relief. While casually chatting away to Holofernes and Judith, he grabs a banana from beneath Holofernes’s throne and comfortably plops himself in his seat, stuffing his mouth with the fruit and ignoring all conventional table manners.
To offset the tension of the first love scene between Holofernes and Judith (that’s right, some girl-on-girl make out action), the Servant also allows his mouth to run while snacking on soda and popcorn, as an observer, like the audience.
Although minimalist, the set proved to be very effective. It consisted of a small set of stairs leading up to a chair, or Holofernes’s throne, an abstract painting with a knife stuck into it and a seat reserved in the audience for special occasions. In one instance of particular rage, Holofernes grabs the Servant by the throat and then proceeds to force him into the reserved seat to teach him a lesson as students and a faculty member observe at a very intimate and invasive distance.
This “breaking of the third wall” between audience members and actors in the performance is certainly interesting, although it seems slightly too long to be believable.
At least, if I had been the Servant being strangled, I would have been dead much sooner than the length of time Liang sustained.
In order to convey Holofernes’s beheading, the Servant smears a paintbrush dipped in fake blood across Holofernes’s neck. The labored manner in which the Servant accomplishes this makes it seem very real, although Holofernes’s head, obviously, is not actually severed from his body.
Now in its third year as a student-led theater group on campus, TOOP continues to provide free, quality entertainment to UR students each semester.
“Judith” was part of a two-play performance set called “TOOP: Uncensored.” It was performed along with junior Sarah Young’s “Orifice,” TOOP’s first student-written full-length play, which was performed on Friday, Nov. 5, and Sunday, Nov. 7.
Their next show, called “Hot ‘N’ Throbbing” will run from Nov. 18-20 at 8 p.m. in the Drama House.
Dickerson is a member of the class of 2012.