By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Over in the beautiful garden city if Victoria, B.C. Canada, the Victoria Fringe Festival returns for its 27th year with a few much-needed updates and, perhaps, an added regular venue. The voting system is changed so its more fair and the Maritime Museum provided the space for a unique play, “Judgement Day,” that kicked off the first week of the festivities. It will also be part of the last weekend too as the votes are being tallied for best of Fringe.
This gently philosophical and satirical look at how socially irreverent various world religions are gets center stage in the courtroom where real trials took place.
And the storm of controversy of which belief is right in granting a peaceful afterlife gets elegantly played up for laughs by New Blood Theatre, a group that may well be ‘new’ to the Victoria scene. They had done a previous production “Greg Phillips: Alleged Antichrist” in collaboration with the Student Alternative Theatre Company at the University of Victoria, and this new show marks their first production that will hopefully tour to other Fringe festivals around the world.
“Judgement Day” is certainly worth a look and garner after dinner discussion if what’s said about religion, the afterlife, and what’s next is true. This play brings forth recollections from this author from when a classic science-fiction/drama television show, Quantum Leap, was airing its final episode, “The Mirror Image” where Sam Beckett finally learns that he has been in control of his “leaps” from the very beginning. Maybe a better title to use is “The Road Home,” but that would be telling too much.
This play is all about the choices made in life and how it affects what’s next for every soul that’s there, including the audience. With one smartly inserted actress (Sarah Cashin) mixed in with this crowd, not everyone will realize who the mole is until the courtroom dramatics takes off. Jane (Cashin) gets targeted and awaits her turn for learning where she is headed next.
This show is not Perry Mason, Ally McBeal or Matlock in disguise. Instead, this type of court has only a Baliff (Ryan Bangma) and Judge (Robin Gadsby) to preside over and make decisions over where each individual’s spirit is going to head. And where they go is interestingly offered up by the Judge. Gadsby’s character is very much like Judge Harry T. Stone in Night Court, and Bangma is very enigmatic in his role as the Bailiff. This secondary character is hard to figure out. Perhaps he’s a non-denominational God in disguise, or maybe he’s just a pragmatist.
Playright and producer, Gadsby revealed that it is essentially Albert Einstein when he crafted the Baliff character. This physicist’s existential point of view can be best summarized with him saying, “We must not conceal from ourselves that no improvement in the present depressing situation is possible without a severe struggle; for the handful of those who are really determined to do something is minute in comparison with the mass of the lukewarm and the misguided….”
But not everyone will read into this play in such a deep level where it will have a significant meaning to them. The absurdity of the situation is very good but the archetypes being represented were very stereotyped. Had that been played down than up, more people could relate to the events going on.
The space used to present this play is excellent since it helps put audiences into the moment. The realism is very appreciated, and hopefully, should this performance tour to other Fringe festivals around the world, maybe a similar kind of space can be found to make this show work. Perhaps an old hall, where the performers are walking through a series of gates to represent the trials each soul has to face. But with a courtroom, all that’s needed is a Judge. As for what’s next, this play does a great job at asking that absolute question. Just what is next? The answers do not need to be spiritual.
This play succeeds in being very thoughtful. While it’s done more for laughs, some audiences may well leave with plenty of food for thought. Hopefully it will be seen again outside of the Fringe circuit, as it is worth spreading a new word around — and that’s to just have an open mind to knowing that life is simply about the choices made. The final path is not always absolute.
4 Stars out of 5