Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Judgment Day Is a Laugh-Out-Loud Comedy with Heart

Sammy (Jason Alexander) and Father Michael (Daniel Breaker) sit in a car with binoculars. It’s dark, and they are on a stakeout outside a bar—anxious to find anything they can use to blackmail Jackson (Joe Dempsey). If they can discover something demeaning, then maybe they have a chance at winning their case. Father Michael is having second thoughts about stooping this low, but to Sammy, this is just another day at the office as a high-paid lawyer.

The material itself is funny, and Alexander and Breaker have spot-on comedic timing. This particular performance’s audience was laughing hysterically—particularly as the differences between the priest and the corrupt lawyer shown through. However, if you listen carefully, you might just find that the true beauty of the scene is the way in which the two characters become closer—finding the similarities in the midst of their differences. As the two start to discuss the nuances of God and whether or not they believe, they begin to realize that they perhaps have more in common than they originally thought. Perhaps, despite all odds, there is potential for friendship.

Jason Alexander stars as a corrupt lawyer attempting to make amends with the help of a conflicted priest, played by Daniel Breaker, in the world premiere comedy Judgment Day. In The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare through May 26, 2024. Photo by Liz Lauren.
Jason Alexander stars as a corrupt lawyer attempting to make amends with the help of a conflicted priest, played by Daniel Breaker. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Written by Rob Ulin, this world premiere Judgment Day follows Sammy Campo (Jason Alexander), a corrupt lawyer with few morals who will do anything for the paycheck. After a near-death experience and meeting an angel (Candy Buckley) who threatens eternal damnation, he becomes determined to change his fate and secure a spot in heaven—no matter who he has to trick on the journey getting there. From forming a bond with Father Michael (Daniel Breaker) to re-acquainting himself with his ex-wife, Tracy (Maggie Bofill), Sammy learns that nothing is quite as it seems. If you’re not quite careful, you may just end up catching empathy and a little bit of faith.

Directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel, the production is fast-paced. Clearly built around Jason Alexander at the center, the piece carries the feel of a TV sitcom. Ulin’s script plays into Alexander’s style, with a sharp wit that bites at every twist and turn. Scenic designer Beowulf Borrit’s set moves around Sammy, with pieces coming in and out of the wings and at the back, a stained-glass angel constantly keeping an eye on his every action. Lighting designer Amith Chandrashaker fills the window with bright washes of color, creating some stunning images behind Alexander as he navigates his journey.

Jason Alexander and Ellis Myers in the world premiere comedy Judgment Day. In The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare through May 26, 2024. Photo by Liz Lauren.
Jason Alexander and Ellis Myers . Photo by Liz Lauren.

Within the comedy is a story with emotional heart as Sammy learns to connect with those around him–in particular his ex-wife and son, Casper (Ellis Myers), a son whom Sammy only learns of towards the beginning of the play. Myers and Alexander fill this relationship with a sweet genuineness, and if you’re anything like me, you may even feel yourself leaning in with curiosity to see how it grows.

Upon meeting, Casper admits to Sammy that he often feels this deep sense that the world around him is fake, and the only thing he can trust to be real is himself. This is undeniably a selfish outlook, and chuckles could be heard throughout the audience at this performance. The room is empty except for the two of them, and Casper turns his attention back to the television in front of him. Sammy simply stares at Casper in shock. Would he agree with his son? Would he correct him? Would he choose this moment to bring some fatherly perspective? Instead, he finally exhales and admits in full volume that he often feels the exact same way. Casper brings his attention back to Sammy and in addition to some excellent comedic timing from both performers, it was clear that the relationship was starting to grow in an exciting way.

Jason Alexander (at right) stars as a corrupt lawyer visited by a terrifying angel, played by Candy Buckley, after a near death experience in the world premiere comedy Judgment Day. In The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare through May 26, 2024. Photo by Liz Lauren.
Jason Alexander and a terrifying angel, played by Candy Buckley. Photo by Liz Lauren.

With a joke at every turn and some heartfelt emotional depth, Judgment Day is sure to impress. This ensemble brings their A-Game, and if future audiences are anything like this one, they will not stop laughing from start to finish.

Judgment Day has been extended through June 2 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E Grand Ave. Tickets run from $52-$78 for Tuesday-Sunday performances. Running time is 2 hours with intermission.

For more information on this and other plays, see theatreinchicago.com.

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Lauren Katz