Also see Kevin's report Local Theatre Company Pays Homage to an Important Playwright
2003 is a bad year for sixteen-year-old Rachel Stein. Her family has moved from New York after the events of 9/11. Her father, Arthur, suffering from post 9/11 depression, won't leave the house or change out of his pajamas. Her mother, Sylvia, is a lapsed Jew who has become a devout born again Christian. Rachel's new next door neighbor is a nerdy sixteen-year-old Nelson, who has a huge crush on her. Nelson's desirability is masked by the fact that he has an Elvis Presley fixation, and insists on dressing in an Elvis, white polyester, concert costume. Not surprisingly, he is the source of considerable peer ridicule at their school.
With the best of intentions, Nelson manages to insert himself into the Stein family. He follows Rachel around like a lost puppy, goes to Bible study with Mrs. Stein, and even manages to bring Mr. Stein out of his depression by having him help in his preparations for his bar mitzvah. In spite of herself, Rachel feels Nelson has an unexplained appeal, and Rachel and Nelson bond over the reading of a progressive book on physics by deceased author Stephen Hawking.
So fervent is Sylvia's quest for salvation in a world seemingly headed for the Apocalypse, that she believes she sees and speaks with Jesus, who is living in her house. Through her conversations with Jesus, she determines that the End of Days is not only near, it is in fact that coming Wednesday! She struggles in her heart to be sure that when the end comes, her troubled and distant husband and her resentful goth daughter will go to heaven with her.
Sylvia's subsequent actions propel the family on a journey of discovery. Amidst Rachel's struggle to sort it all out, she is visited by marijuana-influenced visions of Stephen Hawking, who offers his wise-cracking takes on the meaning of life as they approach what may be the end of days.
Michaela Cronan offers an interesting Rachel, who is the goth personification of the rebellious teenager at odds with the world. Scott Borish, as 16-year-old Nelson, has honed his ability to play the loveable teenage nerd, though he looks close to twice the age of the character. The talents of Elizabeth Dimon are left somewhat untapped in the role of Sylvia. An exploration of Sylvia's relationship with her husband is missing, as is her emotional impetus toward becoming born again. Jim Shankman manages to effectively demonstrate Mr. Stein's struggle, despite a minimum of character disclosure in the script. The part of Jesus is played with the comedic style of Bill Murray by Terry Hardcastle. He doubles in the role of the crusty, wheelchair-bound author, Stephen Hawking.
Laufer takes an awfully long time to make her point in End Days. That point would seem to be that we can look to the the End of Days for God, or look for God in those around us every day. It is true that so much time can be spent looking toward the end of life that we miss the fact that the journey is the thing. Honoring whatever vision we have of God and heaven may be best achieved by loving and honoring those around us here and now. This is an eloquent statement, particularly against the backdrop of a 9/11 premise. Laufer doesn't really touch on 9/11, however, and the writing style of End Days is more roughly comedic than eloquent. Though decently acted and produced, this play is disappointingly not that well written and not that funny.
Playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer has two other plays, The Last Schwartz and The Gulf of Westchester, which premiered at Florida Stage as well. Deborah was a Playwright-in-Residence at The Julliard School, and has held fellowships at Julliard, The Dramatists Guild and the Cherry Lane Alternative. She is a two-time recipient of the LeCompte du Nouy grant from The Lincoln Center Foundation, and the first winner of the Sklarz-Shapiro Award for Playwrighting.
End Days will be appearing at Florida Stage through November 25, 2007. The theater is located in Plaza del Mar, at 262 S. Ocean Blvd. in Manalapan. Florida Stage is a professional theater, with extensive programs for young artists, hiring Equity and non-Equity performers from across the United States. Florida Stage is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the League of Resident Theatres, the Florida Professional Theatre Association, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, and the National New Play Network.
Performance days/times are normally Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:00 PM; and Sundays at 7:00 PM. Tickets and other information may be obtained by calling the box office at (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3833, or contacting them on line at www.floridastage.org.
* Designates member of Actors' Equity Association: the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
** Designates member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.
+Designates member of the United Scenic Artists.