Gleefully smarmy lawyer, Sammy Campo (Jason Alexander), has just cinched investment for an overseas clothing company in which children provide labor. “…of course it’s not child labor. It’s like a crafts program that produces casual wear…” That he’s being pursued by multiple federal and state agencies for a laundry list of malfeasance (unnecessarily including public urination) doesn’t phase him in the least. Like many today, Sammy believes he’s above the law.
In the midst of self-congratulation, he has a heart attack. At the hospital, near death, an angel appears in the form of Sister Margaret (Patti Lupone who laughs, threatens, and growls to perfection), a Catholic School nun from his childhood. “This means God is real?!” the patient exclaims. “Shit!” Sammy is told of the tortures that await him in relished, Biblical detail. It seems, however, that Margaret has jumped the gun, showing herself to him before he’s actually dead. Whoops.
Much to the doctors’ surprise, the patient wakes. He resolves to change his life before dying again and goes to confession. It’s been 37 years. An earnest priest (Santino Fontana, increasingly empathetic) says that in order to atone, the confessor must make amends. Two ways come to mind – making things right with the wife he walked out on 10 years ago because she got fat, and offering pro-bono legal services to the needy.
Sammy tracks down his wife Tracy (Justina Machado – a very real manifestation) working at a diner and shoves a check at her. It’s no go. Not even if she gets to hit him. He swears he wants redemption, follows her home, and accidentally gets a glimpse of her nine year-old son Casper (Julian Emile Lerner- excellent). A light dawns. Tracy slams the door. Sammy grows even more determined.
It seems Sister Margaret told him that one is judged by deeds and not thoughts. His interpretation? As long as he does good, Sammy won’t need to undergo change. Directly against church advice, the Father brings him Mrs. Fillmore, an elderly parishioner whose insurance company refuses to remit her husband’s death benefits. Here’s something worthy of attaining celestial points. “This is unbelievably sad,” Sammy comments. “Do you have any MORE like this?!”
Needless to say the habitually corrupt lawyer’s approach to fixing his client’s situation are all unsavory, whereas the priest insists on appealing to the insurance agent’s better nature. Does mankind, in fact have one? The latter is fruitless. Meanwhile, the padre himself, having a crisis of faith, consults his Monsignor (Michael McKean). It doesn’t help.
Casper gets expelled. Sammy steps in – with his own methods. Tracy skeptically invites him to dinner. It seems the boy is just like his father. This makes him approachable in skewed, like-minded terms. “It’s a much greater accomplishment to help your fellow man if you don’t give a shit.” Reasoning is clever – and effective.
The way Sammy handles the school principal, a stubborn insurance agent, his family, and the vacillating priest (who appears to stray and comes to his own conclusions) offers a moral quandary. Is it all right to act in an unprincipled way in order to achieve good results? Outcome is, after all, what the protagonist is after. Sammy’s intractably sure he’s a bad man. (The Monsignor thinks he may be Satan.)
A stake-out Sammy and the priest share brings out wonderfully rich aspects of their characters. Slaps that come in elsewhere are well employed. The lawyer’s second, unexpected confrontation with Sister Margaret is a hoot. Questions of righteousness and religion remain dangling as do bases of right and wrong.
Rob Ulin has written an immensely smart and decidedly black comedy. Premises are topical, questions relevant, characters believable. Sammy is a marvelously rich character as, secondarily, is the priest. This deserves stage productions. A wonderfully entertaining piece!
There isn’t a weak link in the cast, but Jason Alexander makes a meal of the play in the best sense of the word. Comic timing is a delight. Sammy’s intermittent self-doubt is in visibly apparent battle with his lifelong credo and conduct. An expression of puzzlement sometimes flits across the actor’s face. Sammy squelches it.
Director Matthew Penn keeps us so engrossed, he actually makes one forget we’re watching a cast in ZOOM squares. Expression is character specific and deftly paced. Sammy’s intemperate personality, matched in its way by Sister Margaret’s rather wild one, is balanced by supporting characters who behave familiarly.
Stay though the brief credits, outtakes are fun.
Photos courtesy of the production
Barrington Stage – Artistic Director, Julianne Boyd- presents
Judgment Day by Rob Ulin
Directed by Matthew Penn
Featuring Jason Alexander, Patti Lupone, Michael McKean, Santino Fontana
With: Loretta Devine (Della), Josh Johnston (Doctor), Bianca LaVerne Jones (Principal), Julian Emile Lerner (Casper), Justina Machado (Tracy), Carol Mansell (Edna), Michael Mastro (Jackson) and Elizabeth Stanley (Chandra).
Charming Atmospheric Music- Jordan Plotner
JUDGMENT DAY streams from July 26 through August 1. Tickets are $11.99 and are available at StellarTickets.com. Purchase before July 26 with the code “EARLY” and receive a $4 discount.