Jason Alexander, best known for playing George Costanza in ‘Seinfeld,’ stars in the new comedy ‘Judgment Day’ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Jason Alexander, best known for playing George Costanza in ‘Seinfeld,’ stars in the new comedy ‘Judgment Day’ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Jason Alexander, best known for playing George Costanza in ‘Seinfeld,’ stars in the new comedy ‘Judgment Day’ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Jason Alexander, best known for playing George Costanza in ‘Seinfeld,’ stars in the new comedy ‘Judgment Day’ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

There’s no trace of neurotic George Costanza in Sammy Campo, the sleazy lawyer who Jason Alexander brings to the stage this month at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Alexander stars in Judgment Day, a world premiere comedy from first-time playwright Rob Ulin, about an attorney who is motivated to shape up after a near-death experience reveals he’s not headed for heaven. He co-stars with Daniel Breaker of Hamilton acclaim.

Ulin, the playwright, is steeped in TV as a former writer for shows like Roseanne and Malcolm in the Middle. Alexander has been attached to the show since a Zoom reading at the height of the pandemic, and it finally gets a full staging when it opens on Navy Pier next week. But even early on, its charm shined, said Alexander, who won a Tony for his role in Jerome Robbins’s Broadway in 1989 and more recently, made his Broadway directorial debut.

“We’re going to discover a lot in front of an audience,” Alexander said. “For all of us, that final piece of collaboration is with the audience to know [when to] go faster, go slower, underline that, skip over that, change the way you say that … they actually tell you so much good stuff and it’s not done until they get here.”

WBEZ caught up with Alexander and Breaker for an interview at the theater before a recent rehearsal. This conversation with the actors has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Ellis Myers and Jason Alexander with first-time playwright Rob Ulin and director Moritz von Stuelpnagel in rehearsal for ‘Judgment Day.’ The show opens next week.
Ellis Myers and Jason Alexander with first-time playwright Rob Ulin and director Moritz von Stuelpnagel in rehearsal for ‘Judgment Day.’ The show opens next week. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

You’ve been attached to this show from a first time playwright since a reading in 2020. Is that right?

Alexander: Yeah, we did it as a Zoom reading during the pandemic, which is as surreal as you can possibly do. And its charm showed even then.

What is it about this show that makes it so compelling to you?

Alexander: Well, the No. 1 thing a comedy needs is to be funny. It is very funny. It is really funny. But it’s funny, with a little something to chew on. The characters actually do have dimension. They are seeking answers to rather large questions and dealing with sort of real issues in their life, but it’s funny that it sits in juxtaposition with this enormous supernatural element of a guy who, you know, has had a near-death experience and is now well aware that there’s a heaven that he may not get into and how does he address that?

You play the bad guy in the show, at least maybe initially, your character is described as a scumbag, corrupt lawyer. How have you approached playing this character?

Alexander: I just get out of bed. That’s all I need to do. [Laughs]

Well, I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a real characterization that I play with for Sammy, there’s, it’s a different body, it’s a different rhythm, my voice sounds very different, so it’s a bit of a transformation that once I figured out who I thought he was physically and vocally, the rest of it started to come in a really interesting way. What I felt when I hit on what I’m doing was that I could do things that were crass and low and selfish, that still felt sort of vulnerable and potentially charming. So, the prep was really figuring out what avatar I needed to create, in order to step in the show to find the rest of it.

As perhaps you have seen, there are still bus ads in Chicago that promote reruns of Seinfeld with all four of your faces on there. Is it ever hard to break outside of that character of George, when Seinfeld is still so much a part of our culture?

Alexander: You know, I understand the question, but it presumes the desire to break. My life is much simpler than that. I can’t control what people do and I can’t control what people think. So George is a thing … he is still there, people still relate to him: That’s great. When you come to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, you’re not going to meet George, I’m going to do this other thing. You can go: “Oh, that’s really different” or you can go: “I saw George in that,” and I don’t really care.

I have no desire to only do things that will dispel your image of me as George Costanza. I am well aware the day I die, if anybody notes it, they’ll go, “George Costanza died today.” That’s fine. You know, George was a gift to my life, and apparently is a gift to a lot of other people. And as they say, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

The cast of Seinfeld at the Emmys
The cast of ‘Seinfeld’ at the Emmy Awards in 1993. Alexander says he doesn’t mind that people still see him as George Costanza, but audiences shouldn’t expect that same neurotic character if they go see Alexander’s new play. Douglas C. Pizac/Associated Press

How do you handle it when people see you on the street and call you George?

Alexander: If somebody yells out a lot of different Seinfeld stuff, I will turn around and give a wave, give a nod, say thank you so much. If they just yell “George,” I tend to not turn around. Now, it’s not because I don’t want to be thought of as George, but on more occasions that I can tell you, they were calling someone named George and I turned around like an idiot, and waved at them and I just felt so stupid that I thought, you know, I’m going to hedge the bet and wait for them to call me Jason.

You’re, of course, so known for TV, but your work on stage is so robust and goes back to the 1980s. What does theater allow you to do that you can’t do on TV?

Alexander: If you have the theater gene, it means that you enjoy the challenge, the magic trick, the danger of live performance because it can go wrong, it may not always work. When that curtain goes up, the director could have told us a thousand things, we could have a thousand things in our head … it’s ours. There’s no editor, nothing’s going to save us. So if you enjoy that — if you enjoy the immediacy of communicating with an audience in that way — then there’s nothing like it.

Recently, you’ve been doing some directing, you directed The Cottage on Broadway. How are you feeling about being back on the acting side of a show?

Alexander: It’s fun. And I sleep much better at night, I only have to worry about one thing. You know, when the acting thing is fun, it’s glorious. Directing called to me, because a lot of times I was being offered roles as an actor that I thought, I’ve been there and done that … it’s just not terribly interesting, but directing it would be interesting. That’s not a problem with the show, or this role, it’s really fun to play with it and find it.

What do you hope that audiences take away from this show?

Alexander: One of the things we present in the show is the possibility that the road to salvation and heaven is not who you are, it’s what you do. That you don’t have to be a good person … you do have to do good things. Interesting idea. I like stories that you have to go, “Huh, let’s discuss that.” Otherwise, it’s a wonderful aperitif, but it has no substance and I would love if this play has that kind of substance.

Jason Alexander and Daniel Breaker
Daniel Breaker, who was last on stage in Chicago as Aaron Burr in ‘Hamilton,’ and Alexander in a recent rehearsal. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Daniel, in addition to Hamilton, you’ve been in big name shows like Shrek and Book of Mormon. When did you come on board this production and what made it attractive to you?

Breaker: I just joined the show a handful of months ago and it was kind of a no-brainer to take this job. It’s always great to do a new play, I haven’t done one in a long time. Jason Alexander, he’s not too shabby at the whole acting and comedy stuff. You should see him, it’s a show called Seinfeld that he’s in. But also the play is just a unique play. It’s a comedy, first and foremost. But somewhere within this comedy, springs forward this question of what is our responsibility as human beings to other human beings? And that’s such a fascinating question. It’s such a thrill to dive into that. It’s also very interesting to ride that razor’s edge of like a really tossed up, bawdy comedy and morality play. That’s unique. I haven’t really seen that in a while.

You’re playing a conflicted Catholic priest in Judgment Day. Can you talk about preparing for that role and what people can expect from your character in this play?

Breaker: Yes, Father Michael is definitely a conflicted Catholic priest. I am not Catholic, I grew up Baptist, so less guilt — more tambourine. But I do have a lot of Catholics in my sort of close world, so I think I’m pulling from a few of them a little bit to get some ideas of that. But ultimately, I don’t think I was starting from the sort of Catholic faith exactly in terms of building the character, because I think the universal quality of Father Michael is he is a person who is having doubts about the decisions that he’s made in life. He’s having doubts about his responsibilities as a human being, so I think that is a bit more universal. And then we can fold in the style, the physicality of what a pious Catholic priest of many years would be. It’s a fun contrast off of Jason’s not-so-pious character.

What do you think it is about your character that people will connect with in the show?

Breaker: Well, if we’re lucky, they will relate to the doubts we have as human beings, that can kind of roll in at unexpected times. They can relate to those moments in life when we lose faith, and that can really apply to religion, that can apply to spirituality, that can apply to relationships.

And also, if it really works well, maybe they’ll relate to the heart, just the heart that this guy has. I mean, he’s well intentioned, even though it falls apart sometimes for him.

If you go: Judgment Day runs from April 23-June 2 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave. Tickets from $41.

Courtney Kueppers is an arts and culture reporter at WBEZ.

Updated: This story has been updated to reflect that the show has been extended.

Jason Alexander, best known for playing George Costanza in ‘Seinfeld,’ stars in the new comedy ‘Judgment Day’ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Jason Alexander, best known for playing George Costanza in ‘Seinfeld,’ stars in the new comedy ‘Judgment Day’ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Jason Alexander, best known for playing George Costanza in ‘Seinfeld,’ stars in the new comedy ‘Judgment Day’ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Jason Alexander, best known for playing George Costanza in ‘Seinfeld,’ stars in the new comedy ‘Judgment Day’ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

There’s no trace of neurotic George Costanza in Sammy Campo, the sleazy lawyer who Jason Alexander brings to the stage this month at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Alexander stars in Judgment Day, a world premiere comedy from first-time playwright Rob Ulin, about an attorney who is motivated to shape up after a near-death experience reveals he’s not headed for heaven. He co-stars with Daniel Breaker of Hamilton acclaim.

Ulin, the playwright, is steeped in TV as a former writer for shows like Roseanne and Malcolm in the Middle. Alexander has been attached to the show since a Zoom reading at the height of the pandemic, and it finally gets a full staging when it opens on Navy Pier next week. But even early on, its charm shined, said Alexander, who won a Tony for his role in Jerome Robbins’s Broadway in 1989 and more recently, made his Broadway directorial debut.

“We’re going to discover a lot in front of an audience,” Alexander said. “For all of us, that final piece of collaboration is with the audience to know [when to] go faster, go slower, underline that, skip over that, change the way you say that … they actually tell you so much good stuff and it’s not done until they get here.”

WBEZ caught up with Alexander and Breaker for an interview at the theater before a recent rehearsal. This conversation with the actors has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Ellis Myers and Jason Alexander with first-time playwright Rob Ulin and director Moritz von Stuelpnagel in rehearsal for ‘Judgment Day.’ The show opens next week.
Ellis Myers and Jason Alexander with first-time playwright Rob Ulin and director Moritz von Stuelpnagel in rehearsal for ‘Judgment Day.’ The show opens next week. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

You’ve been attached to this show from a first time playwright since a reading in 2020. Is that right?

Alexander: Yeah, we did it as a Zoom reading during the pandemic, which is as surreal as you can possibly do. And its charm showed even then.

What is it about this show that makes it so compelling to you?

Alexander: Well, the No. 1 thing a comedy needs is to be funny. It is very funny. It is really funny. But it’s funny, with a little something to chew on. The characters actually do have dimension. They are seeking answers to rather large questions and dealing with sort of real issues in their life, but it’s funny that it sits in juxtaposition with this enormous supernatural element of a guy who, you know, has had a near-death experience and is now well aware that there’s a heaven that he may not get into and how does he address that?

You play the bad guy in the show, at least maybe initially, your character is described as a scumbag, corrupt lawyer. How have you approached playing this character?

Alexander: I just get out of bed. That’s all I need to do. [Laughs]

Well, I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a real characterization that I play with for Sammy, there’s, it’s a different body, it’s a different rhythm, my voice sounds very different, so it’s a bit of a transformation that once I figured out who I thought he was physically and vocally, the rest of it started to come in a really interesting way. What I felt when I hit on what I’m doing was that I could do things that were crass and low and selfish, that still felt sort of vulnerable and potentially charming. So, the prep was really figuring out what avatar I needed to create, in order to step in the show to find the rest of it.

As perhaps you have seen, there are still bus ads in Chicago that promote reruns of Seinfeld with all four of your faces on there. Is it ever hard to break outside of that character of George, when Seinfeld is still so much a part of our culture?

Alexander: You know, I understand the question, but it presumes the desire to break. My life is much simpler than that. I can’t control what people do and I can’t control what people think. So George is a thing … he is still there, people still relate to him: That’s great. When you come to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, you’re not going to meet George, I’m going to do this other thing. You can go: “Oh, that’s really different” or you can go: “I saw George in that,” and I don’t really care.

I have no desire to only do things that will dispel your image of me as George Costanza. I am well aware the day I die, if anybody notes it, they’ll go, “George Costanza died today.” That’s fine. You know, George was a gift to my life, and apparently is a gift to a lot of other people. And as they say, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

The cast of Seinfeld at the Emmys
The cast of ‘Seinfeld’ at the Emmy Awards in 1993. Alexander says he doesn’t mind that people still see him as George Costanza, but audiences shouldn’t expect that same neurotic character if they go see Alexander’s new play. Douglas C. Pizac/Associated Press

How do you handle it when people see you on the street and call you George?

Alexander: If somebody yells out a lot of different Seinfeld stuff, I will turn around and give a wave, give a nod, say thank you so much. If they just yell “George,” I tend to not turn around. Now, it’s not because I don’t want to be thought of as George, but on more occasions that I can tell you, they were calling someone named George and I turned around like an idiot, and waved at them and I just felt so stupid that I thought, you know, I’m going to hedge the bet and wait for them to call me Jason.

You’re, of course, so known for TV, but your work on stage is so robust and goes back to the 1980s. What does theater allow you to do that you can’t do on TV?

Alexander: If you have the theater gene, it means that you enjoy the challenge, the magic trick, the danger of live performance because it can go wrong, it may not always work. When that curtain goes up, the director could have told us a thousand things, we could have a thousand things in our head … it’s ours. There’s no editor, nothing’s going to save us. So if you enjoy that — if you enjoy the immediacy of communicating with an audience in that way — then there’s nothing like it.

Recently, you’ve been doing some directing, you directed The Cottage on Broadway. How are you feeling about being back on the acting side of a show?

Alexander: It’s fun. And I sleep much better at night, I only have to worry about one thing. You know, when the acting thing is fun, it’s glorious. Directing called to me, because a lot of times I was being offered roles as an actor that I thought, I’ve been there and done that … it’s just not terribly interesting, but directing it would be interesting. That’s not a problem with the show, or this role, it’s really fun to play with it and find it.

What do you hope that audiences take away from this show?

Alexander: One of the things we present in the show is the possibility that the road to salvation and heaven is not who you are, it’s what you do. That you don’t have to be a good person … you do have to do good things. Interesting idea. I like stories that you have to go, “Huh, let’s discuss that.” Otherwise, it’s a wonderful aperitif, but it has no substance and I would love if this play has that kind of substance.

Jason Alexander and Daniel Breaker
Daniel Breaker, who was last on stage in Chicago as Aaron Burr in ‘Hamilton,’ and Alexander in a recent rehearsal. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Daniel, in addition to Hamilton, you’ve been in big name shows like Shrek and Book of Mormon. When did you come on board this production and what made it attractive to you?

Breaker: I just joined the show a handful of months ago and it was kind of a no-brainer to take this job. It’s always great to do a new play, I haven’t done one in a long time. Jason Alexander, he’s not too shabby at the whole acting and comedy stuff. You should see him, it’s a show called Seinfeld that he’s in. But also the play is just a unique play. It’s a comedy, first and foremost. But somewhere within this comedy, springs forward this question of what is our responsibility as human beings to other human beings? And that’s such a fascinating question. It’s such a thrill to dive into that. It’s also very interesting to ride that razor’s edge of like a really tossed up, bawdy comedy and morality play. That’s unique. I haven’t really seen that in a while.

You’re playing a conflicted Catholic priest in Judgment Day. Can you talk about preparing for that role and what people can expect from your character in this play?

Breaker: Yes, Father Michael is definitely a conflicted Catholic priest. I am not Catholic, I grew up Baptist, so less guilt — more tambourine. But I do have a lot of Catholics in my sort of close world, so I think I’m pulling from a few of them a little bit to get some ideas of that. But ultimately, I don’t think I was starting from the sort of Catholic faith exactly in terms of building the character, because I think the universal quality of Father Michael is he is a person who is having doubts about the decisions that he’s made in life. He’s having doubts about his responsibilities as a human being, so I think that is a bit more universal. And then we can fold in the style, the physicality of what a pious Catholic priest of many years would be. It’s a fun contrast off of Jason’s not-so-pious character.

What do you think it is about your character that people will connect with in the show?

Breaker: Well, if we’re lucky, they will relate to the doubts we have as human beings, that can kind of roll in at unexpected times. They can relate to those moments in life when we lose faith, and that can really apply to religion, that can apply to spirituality, that can apply to relationships.

And also, if it really works well, maybe they’ll relate to the heart, just the heart that this guy has. I mean, he’s well intentioned, even though it falls apart sometimes for him.

If you go: Judgment Day runs from April 23-June 2 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave. Tickets from $41.

Courtney Kueppers is an arts and culture reporter at WBEZ.

Updated: This story has been updated to reflect that the show has been extended.