Judgment Day – Morality in the Eye of the Beholder; A Thought Provoking Black Comedy

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.

Jason Alexander – Sammy

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.

Patti Lupone – Sister Margaret

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.

Santino Fontana – priest; Michael McKean – Monsignor

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. 

Watch the Trailer.

About Alix Cohen (1148 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.