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  • Angela Allyn

What is a Good Life at Chicago Shakes



Rob Ulin’s new play Judgement Day is hilarious, the kind of belly laugh comedy that has the whole audience in Chicago Shakespeare’s Courtyard Theatre at Navy Pier howling in glee.  But it is also a deep look at theology and how belief systems play out in actual human lives, so, as all good clowning does, it contains pathos and meaning. It’s also a nod to “It’s A Wonderful Life” when the protagonist isn’t a very nice person.  


Jason Alexander is perfectly cast as Sammy Campo, a soulless, narcissistic and unethical  lawyer who bargains his way back from death on a technicality after meeting an avenging angel in the form of his former Catholic school teacher who arrives to condemn him to eternal hellfire. Her descriptions are pretty on track with what one sees in a Bosch painting: graphic, horrific and painful.  Based on his interpretation of the “laws of God” Sammy determines he needs to earn enough points doing good deeds to change his hereafter: if he does  an exceptional amount of good deeds he won’t go to hell.  Time and again Sammy will remind everyone he encounters that he is NOT a good person– he is only doing good to help himself. His understanding of deep theological issues boils down to him personally scoring enough on the board to overcome his long running negatives.  His simple goal centered quest for positive points leads him to reconnect with his abandoned wife (played as hard as nails with a quick right hook by Maggie Bofill), to develop a relationship with the son he did not know he had (played by quick as a whip Ellis Myers), and to engage in a kind of Talmudic discourse with the local neighborhood priest (played with wisdom and compassion by Daniel Breaker) who is in the midst of his own crisis of faith. It’s not often you go to a comedy to hear Thomas Aquinas quoted. Other standout performers in this modern morality play: Olivia Denise Dawson as Sammy’s long suffering assistant and Joe Dempsey as the bureaucrat opponent that Sammy tries to best.  


As the play goes on, the” fake it til you make it" transformation begins– Sammy has “feelings” about the people he is doing things for, feelings that terrify him, feelings he has spent his life avoiding having. Father Michael compromises his own ethics and questions what it means to be good, while the Monsignor (the witty Michael Kostroff) espouses less nuanced doctrine. The ensemble works so well together and is so spot on with relationship building and comic timing that they transcend what might lapse into caricature. And then there is the central questions asked by this entertaining play: do we behave differently if we believe in something and do you become good by doing good?


Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel has leashed this talented ensemble into a witty clip that does not give the audience too long to contemplate these big questions, maintaining the fun of the show. It’s quite a delightful romp as you plow through the big questions.  


I can’t help thinking that it’s too bad CCD isn't this entertaining and complex.  No matter what your spiritual predilection,  this is a show to see. Judgement Day is playing Tuesdays through Sundays until May 26th, 2024 at Chicago Shakespeare’s Courtyard Theatre on Navy Pier, Chicago.  For tickets and information go to https://www.chicagoshakes.com/plays_and_events/2324_judgment

 

Photo by Liz Lauren

For more reviews go to www.TheatreInChicago.com

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