Cast of characters
"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."
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),
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).