By Ödön von Horváth; Adapted by Christopher Shinn; Directed by Richard Jones
Off Broadway, Play Revival
Runs through 1.11.20
Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue
by Asya Gorovits on 12.20.19
The cast of Judgment Day. Photo by Stephanie Berger
BOTTOM LINE: A German play about pack mentality written in the 1930s strikes with its relevance in this grandiose production.
The Park Avenue Armory is one of my favorite theatre venues in New York for its iconic yet flexible Wade Thompson Drill Hall and edgy programming. Judgment Day, an adaptation of a 1937 play by Ödön von Horvath, is a perfect example of both. Director Richard Jones returns after the critically acclaimed The Hairy Ape, which played the Armory in 2017, this time with an even more spectacular production.
The events take place in 1933, in a small unnamed town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Express trains pass the little town without even slowing down, comically pushing the citizens against the tall blank wall of the railway station. The loud rumbling (sound design by Drew Levy) and bright silhouettes of the windows swooshing by (lighting design by Mimi Jordan Sherin) make the figures look two-dimensional. The same can be said about the majority of the citizens, restlessly gossiping and vigorously bullying any “black sheep.”
The stationmaster, Thomas Hudetz (Luke Kirby), finds himself first the local hero, and then a victim of the community judgment, after a fatal accident that killed eighteen people. The train derailing caused by an untimely signaling unfolds right in front of our eyes. The stationmaster’s reputation of “a diligent official” (as he calls himself on multiple occasions) was nearly his only pride, and is now at risk. Both witnesses, the innkeeper’s daughter Anna (Susannah Perkins) and the stationmaster’s wife Frau Hudetz (Alyssa Bresnahan), become equally unhappy for covering up and revealing the truth, respectively. The decisions that the main characters have to make take them out of the two-dimensional realm and put them on a wild rollercoaster ride that becomes progressively surreal.
Although coming to terms with one’s guilt is at the core of Judgment Day, it seems like Jones is equally preoccupied with the conflict between the individual and the mob. (Mirroring the fate of the stationmaster, Frau Hudetz and her brother, druggist Alfons (Henry Stram), also fall in and out of favor with the townsfolk.) The director masterfully depicts the nuances of confrontational relationships, not only through the mise-en-scène, but also the transitions, when the group of citizens, under Anjali Mehra's movement direction, silently walks across the stage, evoking a pack of wild animals thirsty for blood.
These elaborately staged transitions also allow the repositioning of the two monumental plywood pieces of scenery, reminiscent of children’s building blocks (set design by Paul Steinberg). The choreography of these blocks (there isn’t a better word to characterize these mesmerizing movements) and the de-individualized, nearly de-humanized mob rushing across the stage, create a beautiful dance that evokes the scale of an individual in comparison to history. Reminded of another monumental piece seen in the Park Avenue Armory, Everything That Happened and Would Happen, I was hypnotized by the majestic grandeur of the scenery brought to life with bold and vigorous lighting design and the abundance of haze. But at the same time, I was taken aback by the fear of the gathering crowds, rising to power and crushing anybody who doesn’t comply with their standards, no matter how outrageous.
(Judgment Day plays at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, through January 11, 2020. The running time is 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Mondays through Thursdays at 7:30; Fridays at 8; and Saturdays at 2 and 8. Tickets are $55, $95, $145, and $195, and are available at armoryonpark.org or by calling 212-933-5812.)
Judgment Day is by Ödön von Horváth. Adapted by Christopher Shinn. Directed by Richard Jones. Movement Direction by Anjali Mehra. Set Design by Paul Steinberg. Lighting Design by Mimi Jordan Sherin. Music and Sound Design by Daniel Kluger. Sound Design by Drew Levy. Costume Design by Antony McDonald. Stage Manager is Janet Takami.
The cast is Luke Kirby, Susannah Perkins, Alyssa Bresnahan, Henry Stram, Alex Breaux, Charles Brice, Cricket Brown, Gina Daniels, Harriet Harris, Maurice Jones, Maurice Jones, Tom McGowan, George Merrick, Jason O’Connell, Joe Wegner, and Jeena Yi.