May 21st Judgement Day – 2012 Fringe Festival Review

Remember last year when Christian fundamentalists were convinced that the world was going to end on May 21st?  Sensible people know that the End of Days is coming this December when the Mayan Calendar reaches its end, but nonetheless many Christians sincerely prepared for the apocalypse last year by giving away their possessions and frantically warning non-believers about the impending Rapture.  The play May 21st Judgement Day examines the ideas behind the return of Jesus in a show that’s less about the apocalypse and more about the people who pray for it to happen.

When the audience enters, the show is already under way with Natalia De Sosa onstage in character as Valentine, a young girl playing with a small stack of toys and books.  The waif like De Sosa is perfectly cast as this mysterious and hapless little girl.  Audiences are left to wonder about her as the Fringe Festival house manager explains where the fire exists can be found.

Once the show properly begins there is a multimedia montage of real news footage from last May reminding the audience about the May 21st doomsday nonsense.   Valentine then quickly reveals that has lived for years in the single room of an underground bunker.  She is visited by James (Played by James Tison), her protector who comes to her every few days to bring supplies.

It seems that Valentine can’t be allowed to leave the bunker because the surface world is being ravaged by the Four Horsemen of the book of Revelations.  Luckily for Valentine, the last man alive is willing to brave the terrors and contaminations of the surface world in order to provide for her, the last woman.  Together they will repopulate the Earth…

It comes as no surprise that there is no apocalypse.  The plot twist is overt right from the beginning of the show, and James is merely holding Valentine prisoner, using biblical hokum to trick her into being his willing sex slave.

Over its 75-minute running time, the piece explores Valentine’s slow progression from a superstitious child to a rational adult.  In keeping with the biblical imagery of the story, she is counseled by two imaginary friends, an angelic woman named Mary Anne (Joyce Miller) and a demonic samurai called Hastur (Elitza Daskalova) who encourage her to obey or rebel against James’ teachings.

Audience members will no doubt wonder things like how old Valentine is, how much time passes over the course of the show, and how poor Valentine came to be in this predicament.  Answers to these questions are often left for the audience to puzzle out on their own rather than being directly stated.

The cast performs enthusiastically but often it is difficult to tell what playwright Joshua Young intends with his commentaries on religion. There are many references to James’ sexuality and religious views, but these often contradict his actions in onstage.  The story also takes a very linear path to an obvious end with much East Versus West religious debate along the way.

Although there are some good ideas in May 21st Judgement Day, it’s a slow boil that holds few surprises.  It’s of moderate interest to theater-goers with an interest in theological debate, and Valentine’s struggle to make sense of her life is an apt metaphor for any person or society struggling to overcome theological oppression.

May 21st Judgement Day has three more performances as of this writing. More information can be found at www.fringenyc.org.

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