From the opening phone call (an old narrative device cleverly employed), you know what drives ambitious lawyer Sammy Campo in Rob Ulin’s hilarious modern comedy, Judgment Day. Samuel is greedy beyond compare, defies the law he practices, and reframes every narrative to make himself look like a hero. He is also about to die. On the way to his hellish unrest, he is confronted by his former Sunday school teacher. Now an angel, she gleefully delivers the bad news of damnation to this once naughty boy turned worse adult. Recognizing that she has badly bent the rules by approaching him before he’s quite breathed his last, the silver tongued devil talks his way into a second chance at life in order to rack up the points he needs to be sent to heaven instead.
Returned to earth, Sammy sets out to do good without actually BEING good. It’s a warped journey gleefully interpreted by Jason Alexander, an unsurpassable master of the rant. To fulfill his plan, he enlists the help of a Catholic Priest portrayed with doubt and discomfort-tinged charm by Santino Fontana. Casting Director Patricia McCorkle deserves her own standing ovation for filling the entire ensemble with such remarkable foils for Alexander. All bring out the best in Ulin’s well constructed banter under the practiced direction of TV vet Matthew Penn. These also include Justina Machado as Sammy’s wife Tracy, by turns vulnerable and fury-driven, and great find Julian Emile Lerner as his edgy mini-me son, Casper. The always assured Loretta Devine leverages her knowing stare and purring voice as assistant Della and Patti LuPone is clearly having a blast as the long dead Sister Margaret. In smaller supporting roles, Michael McKean (Monsignor), Josh Johnston (Doctor), Bianca LaVerne Jones (Principal), Michael Mastro (Jackson) and Elizabeth Stanley (Chandra) make the most of their interactions while the indispensable Carol Mansell almost steals the show as Edna, the slightly slow widow who becomes one of Sammy’s clients.
The script is a brilliant choice for web-based entertainment. Ulin — writer/producer for Ramy, Malcolm in the Middle and Roseanne among other brainy comedic hits — has a remarkable way with language and wordplay. This allows Penn to avoid the common pitfalls of Zoom from effects to false movement. Scene-setting black and white drawings dissolve to the actors in front of solid white backgrounds. Characters’ spacial relationships are established with the use of the stunningly well-timed handoffs of props. Original music by Jordan Plotner supports the naughty tone of the work.
The pandemic has brought forth many a profound production exploring the freshly exposed rips in our social fabric. While Judgment Day may make you contemplate what constitutes goodness, it’s most valuable contribution to this moment is undoubtably to make you laugh. A lot. (Thank god?) This encore presentation in support of Barrington Stages is available to stream on Stellar (https://www.stellartickets.com/o/barrington-stage/events/judgment-day.) from July 26-August 1. Runtime is a breezy 83 minutes. Tickets are only $11.99. Advance purchase using the code “EARLY” and receive a $4 discount.