Jason Alexander Is Returning to Stage Acting, This Time in Chicago | Playbill

Chicago News Jason Alexander Is Returning to Stage Acting, This Time in Chicago

In Judgement Day at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Alexander plays a corrupt lawyer who may be looking for forgiveness.

Jason Alexander and Candy Buckley in Judgment Day Liz Lauren

Film, television and stage actor Jason Alexander met television comedy writer Rob Ulin in an unusual fashion—they had neighboring shelves in a ceramics studio. “I’d see these amazing things he was making, and I left him a Post-it Note saying, ‘I need to know how you did that,’” recalls Alexander.

They got to talking, and Ulin said that he’d had Alexander’s voice in his head as he was writing his play Judgment Day. After reading the script, Alexander signed up to play the corrupt lawyer Sammy Campo in the production currently running at Chicago Shakespeare Theater until May 26.

In the comedy, an angel threatens Campo with eternal damnation after a near-death experience. Desperate to escape hell, Campo bonds with a Catholic priest having his own crisis of faith. The play — directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel—ponders, are people any damn good, can everyone be saved? This is von Stuelpnagel’s latest venture into such metaphysics; he earned a Tony nomination for Hand to God, the Robert Askins show about a possessed Christian-ministry puppet. “There is something about being a lapsed Catholic that brings me to this topic every once in a while,” says von Stuelpnagel. “Often in religion, we talk about how one should be, and the theater gives us an opportunity to talk about how difficult it is to be. I think they’re complimentary in a terrific way.”

Judgment Day—which also stars Daniel Breaker, a Tony nominee for his performance in the musical Passing Strange—is about two men with different dilemmas. One wonders if he can get away without owing anyone anything, and one is driven to solve the world’s problems, relates von Steulpnagel. “The dichotomy of these positions puts them at great odds.” 

Alexander, who has a history of playing charming sinners, among them, George Constanza on Seinfeld and Max Bialystock in The Producers, suggests that someone truly despicable can be incredibly compelling. “They have no editor in their heads, so they do things normal people will not do. However, some of the characters I’ve been asked to play are compelling because their behaviors are covering a very vulnerable heart. They are people who care deeply about something and have never been rewarded for caring. So they develop this veneer, this shield, this coat of non-ethics to protect their heart. In most of the pieces where I play characters like that, this heart gets revealed.”

Jason Alexander and Daniel Breaker in Judgment Day Liz Lauren

On their podcast, Really? no, REALLY?, Alexander and his best friend Peter Tilden, interviewed Robert Enright of the International Forgiveness Institute, which Alexander found “profoundly” moving. “I’ve come to believe that anyone and everyone can be worthy of some sort of redemption. Redemption doesn’t mean you don’t endure punishment or endure consequences. There is a beating heart inside of everyone. And usually, people that are doing things we think of as irredeemable, at some point they’ve become profoundly broken. If our humanity can touch that broken part and invite it back into the light, they often come. And yes, that part of them can be redeemed. That doesn’t mean we forgive all the trespasses, but it does mean we can accept them back into the brotherhood of humanity, if they want to be.”

Both Alexander and von Stuelpnagel are looking forward to working in Chicago—Alexander because he doesn’t know the city, and von Stuelpnagel because of the high reputation of Chicago audiences. “The Chicago audience is known nationally for being astute and smart, and so, to be able to have this dialogue with the audience, which is the final collaborator on any new play, is the most exciting thing,” says von Stuelpnagel.

While most people are familiar with Alexander from TV, he has long had a passion for the stage, both as actor and director (he recently helmed the Broadway production of the Sandy Ruskin comedy, The Cottage). And he wants everyone to share the experience. “If you go back to when we sat in caves, we gathered around the fire and we watched each other tell our stories and that’s how we learned and that’s how we bonded and that’s how we became communities and how we became human,” he says. “To sit outside of that experience because it seems alien to you—I say, don’t be an alien! You’ll have a really great time!”

Photos: Jason Alexander in Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's Judgment Day

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