End Days

[The following review appeared online at the week of July 20th and in Variety magazine the week of July 27th.]

The accelerating speed of historical events makes it hard to write a topical play; couple this with the difficulty of getting it produced, and the window of opportunity for new work to run in more than one market is small indeed. Scribe Deborah Zoe Laufer (The Last Schwartz, slated for Off-Broadway this fall) overcomes these challenges by zeroing in on some contemporary staples—religion, science, 9-11, and celebrity worship—and weaving them into a satirical dark comedy with a moral edge.

As a result, Laufer's latest, which opened at Florida Stage in 2007, gets the royal treatment from the National New Play Network, with productions in Indianapolis (last February) and Denver and Martha's Vineyard (currently). Expect End Days to follow its predecessor to New York: as we face species-defining choices over the next few years, it's a natural.

Rhonda Brown as Sylvia, Laura Jo Trexler as Rachel, and Marcus Waterman as Arthur
Rhonda Brown as Sylvia,
Laura Jo Trexler as Rachel,
and Marcus Waterman as Arthur
wait for news of the Rapture on TV
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Sylvia, wife and mother, is a newly reborn Christian who talks to Jesus on a regular basis; nothing unique, except whenever she mentions the holy man's name he appears—perhaps in the flesh, perhaps in her mind—offering compassion and loving kindness. Eventually, Sylvia gets around to the big question, "When's the Rapture?"

Sean Mellott as Nelson and Laura Jo Trexler as Rachel
Sean Mellott as Nelson and
Laura Jo Trexler as Rachel
work on relating
Photo: Michael Ensminger
In addition to examining Christianity by conjuring its central figure, Laufer winds an intriguing Judaic thread, interlacing Sylvia's husband, Arthur, a lapsed practitioner, and Nelson, a local teenager who converted for his new Jewish stepfather, and is now studying for his Bar Mitzvah. Nelson is head over heals for Sylvia and Arthur's daughter, Rachel, an agnostic, black-cloaked Goth. He comes to their house every day, hoping to entice her to walk with him to school.

Director Christopher Leo's naturalistic approach to Laufer's magical realism avoids the hard sell while giving her script deceptively sharp teeth. Rhonda Brown's Sylvia disarms us with her heartfelt candor, drawing her family's and the audience's hard-earned sympathies despite her vexing fundamentalist hyperboles—all the while setting us up for a surprising catharsis.

Marcus Waterman as Arthur
Marcus Waterman as Arthur
fights depression from 9-11
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Marcus Waterman's arc, as Arthur, carries us from depression (his coworkers lost their lives in the Twin Towers) to a heartwarming rebirth as a conscientious husband, parent, and mentor. Replete with studs, spikes, chains, piercings, and leather from head to toe, Laura Jo Trexler's Rachel is a dynamic and grounded counterpoint to her mother's heavenly aspirations.

Sean Mellott's Nelson, whose only wardrobe is a Las Vegas-era Elvis jumpsuit, is the live wire that supplies the majority of voltage for the show's pacing—whether wound up to warp speed when stripped of his powder blue satin get up, or geared down to gravity-obedient behavior when explaining Stephan Hawking's take on the universe.

David Russell as Stephen Hawking
David Russell as Stephen Hawking
muses on universal issues
Photo: Michael Ensminger
In a clever and fun double-casting, David Russell portrays the winsomely hip, nonchalant Jesus and the congenially focused, wheel-chair bound genius, Hawking. Nick Kargel's set effectively provides for both earth-bound and psycho-spiritual action; Annette Westerby's costumes are right on the money—fun, detailed, and original; and Shannon McKinney's lighting ranges from subtle to special effects, punched up by Paul Turley's atmospheric sound design and an all-Elvis soundtrack for the segues.

No heavy preaching here. The universality of the denouement brings this comedy full circle, leaving us to admire the relevancy of Laufer's humor and wisdom of her message. Curious Theatre Company's regional premiere of Deborah Zoe Laufer's End Days runs through July 26th at the Acoma Center. 303-623-0524.

Bob Bows


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