A play in three acts by Walter Ferris and Basil Rathbone. Opened at the Longacre Theatre, New York City, January 24, 1929, and ran for 12 performances. Produced by William A. Brady, Jr. and Dwight Deere Wiman. Staged by Richard Boleslavsky.

Rathbone in "Judas", 1929
Rathbone as "Judas"

Cast of characters

Simon Ish Kerioth William Courtleigh
Rebekah Jennie Eustace
Naomi Dorothy Cumming
Judas Basil Rathbone
Flavius Charles Henderson
Marcus Doan Borup
Thomas Lyons Wickland
Andrew Harold Moffet
James William D. Post
Matthew Charles Halton
John William Challee
Peter Doan Borup
First Priest John O'Meara
Second Priest Tom Hayes
Third Priest A. Lymmborn
Fourth Priest Ralph Thomas
Caiphas William Courtleigh
A Priest of the Guard Joseph Redalieu
Akiba Charles Halton
Joseph of Arimathea Robert Barrat
Act I The courtyard of the House of Simon ish Kerioth, in Judea

Act II A House in Bethany, near Jerusalem

Act III The Temple, Jerusalem

Rathbone as Judas
Drawing of Rathbone as Judas
by Ben Solowey
Used by permission of the
Studio of Ben Solowey

"A defense of the betrayer in which Judas is shown as the most devoted of Jesus' disciples but determined to arouse the Savior as a militant rather than as a spiritual redeemer of the Jewish people. The betrayal is a part of Judas' plan to inspire Jesus' rebellion."
[from The Best Plays of 1928-29, ed. by Burns Mantle (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1929), 461-462.]

The relationship between Jesus and Judas had troubled Rathbone since he was in his teens, and over the years he became obsessed with it. Why did Jesus choose a despicable betrayer to become one of his disciples?  Rathbone discussed the subject with friends, and also with Walter Ferris, a teacher with a gift for writing. Ferris was intrigued by Rathbone's idea of a play exploring the association between Jesus and Judas. Their collaboration was perfect. Basil had the play in his mind, and Walter put it on paper. "Act by act, and scene by scene I passionately released the still waters of my imagination, which poured from me like a broken dam, while Walter sat quietly making voluminous notes, questioning me, analyzing my answers, objecting, agreeing, reserving his judgment. . . . Walter and I were in such complete rapport that he finished writing the play in one month. It was exactly what I had hoped for, a most sensitive and intelligent transposal into dialogue of all we had talked about" (In and Out of Character, by Basil Rathbone, 4th Limelight Edition, New York, 1997. p. 111),

In the play Judas was seeking a leader who could successfully head a revolt against the Romans. When he saw Jesus he felt instinctively drawn to Jesus, and he followed him. "To Jesus he expounded his hopes and plans for an uprising that would release his beloved homeland from Roman domination. And though Jesus had turned sadly away from him, Judas' mind was made up. This was his leader and Judas would be to him, as it were, his chief of staff. Miracles there must be to attain his purpose, and miracles there were, but not of the kind that Judas sought after. He was contemptuous of his fellow disciples and was deeply troubled by the Master's choice of such simple, ignorant fellows. But he would bide his time, and he could well afford to since there was much to encourage him. People loved his leader; great crowds were drawn to see and hear Him. Much of what the Master said and did was highly provocative and Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem were much concerned by His teachings and His success with the people" (p. 114).

drawing by Eric Pape
Drawing of Rathbone as Judas
by Eric Pape, 1929

By the time Jesus and his disciples came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Judas had grown impatient with the lack of progress with the "revolution." As a last, desperate move, Judas chose to betray Jesus in order to force a situation, and spark rebellion against the Romans. When that didn't happen, Judas was overcome with guilt, and hanged himself.

The play received mixed reviews and closed after three weeks on Broadway. While it was considered a failure in terms of box office receipts, many Catholics, Protestants and Jews wrote letters to Rathbone and came backstage to see him. The play certainly generated controversy.

Rathbone wrote that when he asked a Catholic priest, a good friend of his, why he and Ferris had met with such opposition from virtually all denominations of the Christian Church, the priest replied, "My dear Basil, it is all right for you and Mr. Ferris to have made this journey because it seems perfectly evident that you know the road back home. But to many others such questionings can be deeply disturbing. These people entering upon such a journey might be unable to find their way home again and their peace of mind could be permanently affected. It is our duty to see that they are not exposed to such a possibility" (p. 116).









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All original content is Marcia Jessen, 2012