End Days

Playwright: Deborah Zoe Laufer
Director: Linda Whitney
Producer: Harlequin Productions
Dates: Jan 28 – Feb 20, 2010

Apocalyptic genius
What would you do if you knew the world was ending?
CHRISTIAN CARVAJAL – The Volcano
Feb 3, 2010

Having recently authored a novel about the Apocalypse as predicted in the last few pages of the Good Book, I can tell you quite a bit about what people in this area think about the End of the World: almost nothing. Even most churchgoing Christians view the Rapture as a vague, far-future possibility, somewhat like interstellar tourism. But what if you knew the hour and the day Christ was due to return, leading hosts of angels to both airlift the faithful and smite the agnostic? How would your behavior change? How many of your friends and family members would be (dun, dun, DUN) left behind, and without them, would you still want to skip through the Pearly Gates?

That’s the eschatological crisis faced by the Stein family in Deborah Zoe Laufer’s 2008 comedy End Days, now being presented by Harlequin Productions in Olympia. Sylvia, Arthur and Rachel Stein are New Yorkers recovering in various ways, and to widely varying degrees, from 9/11. Rachel’s schoolmate Nelson suffers from daunting challenges as Armageddon approaches: He’s infatuated with a girl who doesn’t want him, he’s compelled to dress like Fat Elvis, and most damning of all (pardon the expression), he isn’t a Christian – though he’s willing to play along if it makes the Steins happy.

Rachel, like many teenage girls when only their families are around, is satanically argumentative, and she dresses as if someone hoisted her by her feet and swung her around a Hot Topic. She cultivates an imaginary friendship with English astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. Celebrity worship runs in her family, though; her mother Sylvia talks to Jesus – who finds her a bit clingy. The Messiah and Dr. Hawking are both played with impeccable timing and wheelchair virtuosity by Robert McConkey.

OK, so the script may as well be called Things Christian Carvajal Loves, but it takes more than ingenious writing to complete a winning show. Always technically polished, Harlequin damn near stages Laser Floyd here, thanks in large part to video designer Jill Carter. Darren Mills’ costumes provide instant recognition of character type while facilitating 10-second changes for McConkey. Sound designer Emma Gustason conveys us to the edge of the Apocalypse and back.

A play about the shared fates of time, space, and spirituality risks ponderous self-importance, but End Days is buoyed by credible comic performances under the capable direction of Linda Whitney. Rian Wilson is a true find; he plays Nelson, an ongoing epicenter of schoolyard abuse, without devolving into a twitchily dysfunctional stereotype. Scott C. Brown’s accent never seems to hail from the same Northeastern state as Ann Flannigan’s, but he’s one of the most reliably talented underplayers in the South Sound. Amy Hill gradually introduces a welcome core of warmth to Goth grrl Rachel, but even as her agro attitude dominates Act I, Flannigan’s Sylvia emerges as the Steins’ secret backbone in a performance that nails every laugh line while exploring each maternally reactive nuance. It’s a truly terrific piece of work.

Harlequin’s End Days is one of the richest productions of any new play I’ve seen in a decade.

With talented cast and crew, ‘End of Days’ is a delight
ALEC CLAYTON – Tacoma News Tribune / The Olympian
Feb 5, 2010

“End Days” at Harlequin Productions is two hours of hilarious weirdness featuring the strangest yet almost believable extended family you’ll ever fall in love with.

The Steins are nonreligious Jews who escaped New York City for the peace and quiet of the suburbs after 9/11. Arthur (Scott C. Brown) escaped the collapse of the twin towers, but 65 of his co-workers were killed. He has been severely depressed since then and can do nothing but sleep. His wife, Sylvia (Ann Flannigan) has found Jesus. Literally. She sees Jesus (Robert McConkey) and talks with him. Their 16-year-old daughter, Rachel (Amy Hill in exaggerated Goth garb and makeup) is now visited by Stephen Hawking (also Robert McConkey), whom no one else can see, and by their neighbor, teenaged Nelson Steinburg (Rian Wilson), who is infatuated with Rachel and is unable to function without wearing his white Elvis jumpsuit.

Sylvia is convinced that the rapture is coming soon, and she cajoles Jesus into telling her when – and he lets it be known that it is coming Wednesday.

A creation of playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer’s fevered imagination, “End Days” could easily come across as too artificial and absurd, but in the hands of Harlequin Productions’ cast and crew it is absolutely delightful. Much credit must go to director Linda Whitney and to each of the cast members for honing the peculiarities of their characters – Arthur’s disconnect with reality, and his underlying sweetness; Sylvia’s desperation and her love for her family; Rachel’s justifiable anger and rebellion; Nelson’s wide-eyed wonder at just about everything – especially Rachel and scientific theories; Hawking’s sly humor and Jesus’ charm. This cast, individually and in their interaction, makes these absurd characters as real as your next door neighbor.

Brown’s performance is an object lesson in the art of acting. He makes the slightest of expressions tell a lot about his psyche – the weariness in the way he props his head in his hand or picks his head up as if it weighs a ton and drops it back to the table. Nobody can fall asleep across a table the way he does. Nobody sleeps so entertainingly or so constantly, and Brown makes it laugh-out-loud funny and absolutely real.

McConkey does an imitation of Stephen Hawking that is as spot-on as Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin, and he plays a mostly silent Jesus as maybe not too bright but very accommodating. It is their subtlety that makes Brown’s and McConkey’s acting so effective.

By contrast, it is passion and energy that stand out in the work of Wilson, Hill and Flannigan. As just one of many examples is the strange way Rachel kisses Nelson. Such a kiss has perhaps never been seen on stage. It is simultaneously passionate and mechanical, like the kiss of a love-starved robot – it seems to be an act of the possessed. Wilson is palpably confused and excited. Sylvia’s seemingly unbalanced belief that her world and the people she loves will end may or may not be literally true by the end of the play, but Flannigan brilliantly portrays a fervor that is grounded in the character’s need to keep her people safe and whole.

Beyond a strange and humorous script and fine acting and directing, there are moments of inspired presentation (such as the afore-mentioned kiss) that were surely not in the script but were dreamed up by Whitney or her cast and crew. I don’t want to describe the best of these because they are better when you don’t see them coming, but I’m sure most audience members will recognize them: the way a particular set piece is brought on stage and the brilliant choice of a particular prop.

Kudos also must go to Jill Carter for the fine video projection used throughout to ease us through scene changes.

“End Days” is a bittersweet comedy about how real people cope with real tragedy and an apocalypse that may or may not be actually looming. It pokes fun at Jews and Christians, and especially believers in the rapture, without being disrespectful to any of them.

What People are Saying About End Days
Emails and Letters to Harlequin Productions

OMG – (that is “Oh, My God” in computer speak….I think). We saw the play Friday, and bought tickets for our daughter and her husband to see it Saturday. It was so wonderful!! So many layers. So much to think about and talk about. So Funny. And So Moving. I plan to spend 5$ tomorrow to brag about the play at Rotary (they charge us for “Happy Bucks”).”

“I saw End Days on Sunday and enjoyed it so much! Beautifully prepared, acted, and presented! I’m telling friends that they must go see it! Thank you!”

“This was amazing. I came with a group of people and we had no idea what we were going to be seeing. It’s been a long week and we were saying when we came in that, if this was going to turn into something heavy or dreary, we’d just leave at intermission. But it’s so much fun! I loved the script and every one of the actors was just perfect. I loved all of them.”

“I belong to the Unitarian Church and a couple of years ago we started a study group about free will. We met twice a week for months, and… we finally had to stop. We just had to stop! We weren’t getting anywhere! Everybody had their own opinion and no matter how much we talked, no one could or would change their mind! It was frustrating! But here, in under two hours, you’ve covered everything we talked about… and it was so much fun!”

“Absolutely hilarious! I had not idea it was going to be so funny! The script and the acting… and the staging! The staging is gorgeous! The video is completely amazing.”

“When we walked in and saw the set, we said… really? It looked so… kind of nothing. Wow! From the very beginning it was just… cosmic!”

“You guys have got a hit on your hands. No question. I mean, look at this audience!”

“That was very, very enjoyable. I never knew the apocalypse could be so much fun.”

“Oh my god! That play! END DAYS! I went with about 12 or 15 people. We all talked about it afterward and we all felt the same way. It was fantastic! We all loved it so much. It was just so unexpected! I figured I’d like it, but it was just beyond anything I could have dreamed of. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I guess I’ve just got to get out and rattle some cages. Everyone needs to see this play!”

“A terrific cast. Every one of them. But Ann Flannigan. What a role for her! She was just awesome! And that kid who played Nelson! I just wanted to take him home with me!”

“That was the most fun I’ve had in the theater in a long, long time.”

“My partner and myself attended “End Days” this saturday afternoon and were pleasantly surprised! What a gift to the commmunity the Harlequin Company provides ..The director selected the perfect cast for this production …the 2 1/2 hours went by quickly and kept us entertained as well as fed with food for thought and conversation afterwards. BRAVO to the Management, Director, Cast, Crew and Volunteers for making this afternoon experience so rewarding…especially “pay what you can”… a reward to the community to see live acting without excuse or availability.”

“My heartfelt congrats to Linda, and the entire production team for an amazing theatre experience today at End Days. I got to tell the cast how wonderful they were/are, but I wanted to pass the same “Bravo” on to Linda and everyone there.”

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Published on February 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

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