By Carole Di Tosti . . .
What happens when a criminal, huckster lawyer dies on the operating table, has an NDE (near death experience) and comes back to life with the validation that the next time he will roast in the fires of hell because, lo and behold, there is a God?
Judgment Day by Rob Ulin (Roseanne) directed by Matthew Penn (Orange is the New Black) riffs on NDEs, Catholicism, angels, hell, redemption, wicked hearts, good deeds and more with LOL riotous humor. Thanks to the clever writing with one-liners every 10 seconds and a hysterical comedic situation, you will be uplifted out of the doldrums of the current chaos by Ulin’s witty take on issues of faith, goodness, the afterlife, and angels with sardonic, hell-raising laughter like Patti LuPone’s.
Sam Campo portrayed by the inimitable and great Jason Alexander must negotiate his fears of hell’s torments by doing enough good deeds to escape a sure-to-be doomed afterlife the next time around. Visited by Sister Margaret (the campy Patti LuPone) while he is dying, Campo argues his way to a miraculous second chance in life, having found a loophole in the laws of God and Sister Margaret’s premature rush to “judgment.”
Taking advantage of his second chance, Campo visits Father Michael (Santino Fontana is Alexander’s straight guy who gets loads of laughs) to discover how he can turn the horrific visitation by Sister Margaret into a blessing. Considering Campo’s black heart, corrupt criminal nature and rotten track record in life as an immoral and unethical lawyer, he has far to go.
In his humorous discussion during confession to the Father, Campo in an act of one-upmanship with the doubting priest, affirms a way to redeem himself by initiating a series of good acts following Sister Margaret’s adjuration that it’s your good deeds that God counts for your admission to heaven. Ulin’s reversal of Christian virtues, faith and philosophies is hysterical and Alexander is so believable as to make anyone watching, especially Catholics, believers.
The hijinks continue when Campo attempts to make amends with wife Tracy (the wonderful Justina Machado) whom he abandoned 10 years before because she was fat. When he hunts her down to do his good deeds, he discovers the fat was her pregnancy and together they have son Casper (the excellent Julian Emile Lerner). In the process of a lumpy, bumpy reconciliation with his wife, Campo takes Casper under his wing and converts the youngster’s anger to happiness. He also good-naturedly uproots Tracy from her rage and bitterness hating him. Humorously, gradually, he wins her back with respect and kindness.
However, these deeds alone are not worthy of the big Kahuna, an act of benevolence that will make angels weep and have God sign off on his one-way-ticket to heaven. During the process of seeking out someone to help, Father Michael introduces him to a parishioner in great need and together, despite Father Michael’s disobedience to the Monseigneur (a wonderful portrayal by Michael McKeon), Campo and Father Michael become involved in wily machinations to help the elderly parishioner by sweeping her out of the clutches of the “Compassionate Insurance Company.”
The production values via an online Zoom treatment are superb with the additions of black and white line drawings of venues that Campo visits along his journey to redemption. Most importantly, this is perhaps the best of performances I’ve seen in this format with the actors using the “squares” to their finest advantage, making these characters come to life vibrantly with all their wants, desires and needs. Thanks to Penn’s direction, the actors are superb. Alexander is just fabulous, and Fontina catches the ball Alexander tosses to him in their acute back and forth sequences about faith, ethics, doubt and the necessary proof that God exists. These thrust and parries are a joy to watch.
The encore performance to benefit the Barrington Stage Company under the leadership of Founder/Artistic Director Julianne Boyd in association with Stellar Events was an audience favorite last summer. It is obvious why. The acting, writing, directing and seamless presentation on Zoom are exceptional.
This is a must-see for its laughs and its brilliance. The performance streams from July 28 through 1 August, exclusively on Stellar Events. Tickets are available at https://www.stellartickets.com/barrington-stage/events/judgment-day