With the Millennium a distant memory, and 2012 already sloshing through the snow into history, you’d think that by February 2013 watching a play about the end of the world might be a bit ho-hum. I was prepared for that. However, End Days is anything but ho-hum.
Taking a look back, picture this: It’s 2003, and 16-year-old Rachel Stein is having a bad year. Her father hasn’t changed out of his pajamas since 9/11. Her mother has begun a close, personal relationship with Jesus. Her new neighbor, a 16-year-old Elvis impersonator, has fallen for her hard. And the Apocalypse is coming on Wednesday. Her only hope is that Stephen Hawking will save them all.”
The play description is intriguing in itself. Just how will such a disparate script flow together? Amazingly, I discovered.
With the intimacy of the Williamston Theatre space and the minimalist set, the actors and their relationships play out as if the stage is in your own heart and mind. Up close and personal, the story zooms through your imagination, such that you become each of them; and each story is yours.
End Days, directed by WT Artistic Director Tony Caselli, stars Eric Ellersen (Nelson), Andrew Head (Jesus/Stephen Hawking), Lydia Hiller (Rachel), John Manfredi (Arthur) and Emily Sutton-Smith (Sylvia).
I’d enjoyed John Manfredi in WT’s Oedipus; and I’ve followed Emily Sutton-Smith (WT Development Director) in numerous wonderful productions, since I began frequenting this professional theatre in downtown Williamston about four years ago.
Manfredi’s portrayal of the father in End Days brings back memories of Sept. 11, 2001. Arthur Stein worked in the World Trade Center, and was the only one from his company to survive the holocaust of that day.
Arthur’s wife, Sylvia (Sutton-Smith), finds her life revolving around her new-found spiritual relationship with Jesus, while Arthur remains stuck in his pajamas and his depression.
I loved this play for the way the young people – daughter Rachel (Hiller) and the neighbor boy Nelson (Ellerson) – bring life back to the Stein family through their evolving relationship. He (always dressed in his Elvis costume) introduces her to the writings of physicist Stephen Hawking (Head)…to the point where she (wildly dressed, rebellious teen) is having fascinating conversations with him, just as the always-proper Sylvia does with Jesus (also Head).
End Days is a collaborative production with Michigan State University. Ellersen, Head and Hiller are MSU Department of Theatre students. Ellerson appeared in the WT production, Dead Guy, last season; he was James in James and the Giant Peach at MSU.
Head is a first year MFA Acting candidate at MSU. He was narrator in James and the Giant Peach; and he spent two years serving in the Peace Corps in Ghana after graduating from Bradley University in 2007.
Hiller appeared as Jaquenetta in Love’s Labour’s Lost and as Polly in Pygmalion at last summer’s Michigan Shakespeare Festival.
I highlight the student actors because of their entrancing performances. For me, the three MSU students created a brilliant freshness, a youthful spark that energized the production. For me, it was that spark that illuminated the beginnings of healing for the Stein family.
As Artistic Associate Lynn Lammers writes in the WT program about the Deborah Zoe Laufer play, End Days is moving on to the Jewish Theatre of West Bloomfield, MI after its WT run ends on Feb. 24:
Because of this extended run, the student actors involved in End Days will be graduating with a significant number of ‘points’ toward their membership in Actors’ Equity Association, the professional actors’ union. They will also have formed relationships with two regional professional theatres. What a great way to launch their careers, gaining practical experience and seeing first-hand how two very different professional theatres do their work.
End Days, as I said, is anything but ho-hum. It’s a remarkable portrait of how a family can work through tragedy and pull together despite differing perspectives on life’s journey, or personal views about the Apocalypse.
Sorting it all out is the stuff of life. How wonderful that Laufer, as playwright, is able to get us to think about the end times. The Apocalypse, perhaps, is us. Making peace with ourselves may make all the difference on beginning the healing journey.
End Days Links
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