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End Days

CATEGORY :
by Deborah Zoe Laufer

COMPANY : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 3405

SHOWING : May 29, 2009 - June 28, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Meet the Steins. Sixteen-year old Rachel is a Goth. Dad won’t change out of his pajamas. Her Jewish mom is suddenly born again – and Jesus has moved into the kitchen. Their new neighbor, a teenager with an Elvis fixation studying for his bar mitzvah, has fallen for Rachel hard. With the Apocalypse coming on Wednesday, and everyone on a quest for answers, can they come together as a family before time runs out?

This quirky and moving comedy about family, faith, and science for the 21st century will lead you on a journey of hope and laughter!


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Heidi Cline
Scenic/Projections Designer John Thigpen
Nelson Nick Arapoglou
Arthur Robin Bloodworth
Jesus/Stephen Hawking Adam Fristoe
Rachel Stein Maia Knispel
Sylvia Stacy Melich
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Non-Overlapping Post-Traumatic Magisteria
by Dedalus
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
4.0
In his 1999 book Rock of Ages, philosopher and scientist Stephen Jay Gould wrote what he thought was "a blessedly simple and entirely conventional resolution to ... the supposed conflict between science and religion." He described this concept as “Non-Overlapping Magisteria,” a high-falutin’ phrase, which essential means that Science and Religion look at (and explain) the universe in ways (and using questions) that are, at root, fundamentally different; that they aren’t necessarily contradictory, and, paradoxically, can often complement each other. (Or, as he obscurely put it, "science and religion do not glower at each other...[but] interdigitate in patterns of complex fingering, and at every fractal scale of self-similarity.")

While I don’t necessarily agree 100% with this view (see postscript below), this argument is at the heart of Deborah Zoe Laufer’s “End Days,” a nice production recently completing a run at Horizon Theatre. This is a play with characters of different faiths (and extremes of faith) in conflict with each other, but it remains refreshingly free of judgmentalism. The characters (eventually) accept the faiths (and lack thereof) of each other, and, in fact, recognize the emotional voids they fill and fail to fill.

The Stein family are 9/11 survivors. Dad (Arthur) was a high-salaried manager in the World Trade Center, and missed being a victim only through a chance encounter. All sixty-five people who worked for him disappeared in a flash of religious extremism. Mom (Sylvia) spent the day wondering if her husband and daughter (Rachel) were still alive. All three have dealt with their post-trauma in different ways. Arthur has resigned completely from the human race, spending his days napping in his pajamas and his nights not sleeping. Sylvia, without giving up her essential Jewishness, has embraced Apocalyptic Evangelical Christianity, sees visions of Jesus, and spends her days preparing for the Rapture. Rachel has Gothed out, living in a cocoon of alienation, flirting with her own vision (physicist Stephen Hawking). The shadows of Ground Zero dominate their lives (both figuratively and literally – the set is backed by silhouettes suggesting the both the shards of the ruined towers and the fences the Steins have built to keep themselves safe.

But, this is a comedy. So, into their lives comes Nelson Steinberg, a sunny classmate of Rachel who dresses like Elvis and stalks like a warm puppy. He brings purpose to Arthur’s days, Science to Rachel’s life, and acceptance to Sylvia’s passions. As played in a delightful turn by Nick Arapoglou, Nelson is the outsider, the catalyst of healing, the one with his own traumas who nevertheless keeps a disgustingly cheerful optimism that is a joy to watch.

When Sylvia misinterprets an itchy eye in her phantom Jesus, she’s certain the Rapture is coming on Wednesday, and the family (with Nelson) joins her for the final vigil. If they’re more interested in waffles and dip than in repenting sins they have to strain to recall, well, at least they’re together, and Sylvia won’t have to relive that awful day wondering if they’ll “make it.” And we are all blessed (if you’ll forgive that term from a skeptic) with an evening in the theatre watching marvelous actors portraying dimensional characters who do not live in a plot-contrived vacuum, who are not mouthpieces for a playwright’s obsessions and passions, and who aren’t afraid to digress and grow and talk about the seemingly “important” stuff.

What struck me while watching this play was that, yes, they talk about the big questions – God and Science and Physics and Trauma and Hebrew School. But they show us that the most important things in their lives are the small steps, the grace notes that define their characters and their relationships. This is a family in which a trip to the grocery store is a profound victory, a sudden kiss is a shock to both giver and receiver, a borrowed book is a door to a new universe (or at least a new window on the one that’s always been there). It’s a family in which the quest for redemption takes a back seat to the quest for water chestnuts. I was reminded of a blatantly humanistic comment at the end of Archibald MacLeish’s adaptation of Job (J.B.), in which J.B. says of God, “He does not love. He is!” to which his wife responds, “But we do! There’s the wonder of it.” This play, like “J.B.,” ascribes love and family as the only sane human response to the mysteries of God’s whims and Science’s paradoxes.

On a purely dramaturgical level, “End Days” is filled with clever bits and ideas. For one, the imaginary Jesus and the imaginary Hawking are played by the same actor (a wryly amusing Adam Fristoe – BTW, kudos on some fast costume changes, and kudos on the wonderful sound design in recreating Hawking’s computer-voice). For another, green stars move randomly against a backdrop of over-sized planets, which double as projection screens. For still another, the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the characters all have credible psychological roots, back stories that are both moving and “there-but-for-fortune-(or the grace of God)-go-I” recognizable.

The cast gives some of the finest ensemble work of the year, with no member upstaging or outshining the others. The Steins are played by Stacy Melich (Sylvia), Robin Bloodworth (Arthur), and Maia Knispel (Rachel), and they made me believe they were a family. The petty irritations, the unspoken affections, all those subtle interactions that are at the root of the best ensemble work, are here in evidence. They were a family I wanted to get to know better, or to sit down and discuss Science and Religion over a game of Hearts.

One of the paradoxes of quantum physics, is, that, at a sub-atomic level, things get really weird – the basic “stuff” that forms atoms is both matter and energy, particle and wave. It changes depending on how we observe it. As Nelson puts it, “If you ask it a particle question, it’s matter, if you ask it a wave question, it’s energy.” This same paradox is equated to the debate between Science and Religion – if you ask the Universe a Science question, it’s a physical place, if you ask it a Religion question, it’s a spiritual place.

What is not a paradox is the “End Days” theme that love and emotion provide a real healing when Religion and Science conspire to tear at the forces that bind us together.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

Postscript (A Soapbox Digression): My biggest objection to the “non-overlapping magisterial” premise is the parts that do overlap – Religion too often makes claims more suited to science and vice versa, hence Creationism and Scientism. A popular cliché is that “Science tells us how the Universe works, while Religion tells us why.” My biased response to that is, “No, Religion doesn’t tell us why. It tells us a story that makes us believe we know why. And if we believe we know, we stop asking.” I hope I never stop asking.


[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
THEW END IS NEAR!!!! jk jk y'all ;)
by Dagbath Yallington
Monday, June 1, 2009
4.5
Hey TR friends, your old pal D'bath Y'ton here to humbly ask you to go check out the Horizon's production of End Days. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first production of this outstanding material in the Southeast, so be among the first to see the show, you won't be disappointed. I PROMISE.

As a theatergoer I'm usually more drawn to the performances and the staging of the material than I am the material itself. I'm not saying the performances were bad, far from it, it's just that Deborah Zoe Laufer has given us such strong material to work with here, the conversation I had with friends after the show focused mainly on the show itself.

The Steins are a family in distress. Dad Arthur is so overcome with grief after the 9/11 attacks he can't leave the house. Mom Sylvia has found Jesus...literally (the family is Jewish). Daughter Rachel is a goth teen, alienated from the world and her family, which has ceased to be a family. While Sylvia looks for her salvation from Jesus, the family's salvation comes in the form of the quirky new, Elvis obsessed neighbor, Nelson.

Nelson is played expertly by Nick Arapoglou. Arapoglou does a fantastic job capturing the essence of the eternal optimist, who maintains his optimism despite a lifetime of personal tragedy. It's a fine line to walk. Arapoglou is endearing without being a cornball which is crucial because Nelson is our balance between the faith perspective Sylvia champions and the science based perspective Rachel believes in.

Robin Bloodworth has the unbelievably difficult task of going through a believable re-awakening over the course of a 90 minute play. With the help of Nelson he goes from a man shut off to the world to the Arthur his family remembers. It's a difficult task to pull that off effectively and he does it brilliantly.

Stacy Melich gives perhaps the most interesting performance in the cast. As Sylvia she has to put on an emotional front while internally carrying the feeling of overwhelming despair. It's a job done amazingly well by Melich to be able to convey the essence of a character whose emotions are boiling inside of her.

Maia Knispel is hilarious as the rebellious teenager Rachel. The part of the rebellious teenager is so cliche, but Laufer has given us a rarity in a teen who has angst for a legit reason. Knispel captures the despair of a character who sees her family crumbling before her eyes and is powerless to do anything about it.

Adam Fristoe gets to tackle what I think is the hardest part to play in any form of entertainment, Jesus. You have to walk a fine line with it not to offend people and Fristoe has the freedom to portray Jesus the way Sylvia sees him, rather than by any textbook definition of who Jesus was. Fristoe does this also with his role as Stephen Hawking providing humor to the show as well as some interesting subtext to the theme of science vs. faith.

This is a show that doesn't make presumptions or judgments about faith and science. It's just a portrayal of one family's journey through tragedy and how they deal with it. It's a fair portrayal of the main themes at hand.

If you're looking for a night of theater that will leave you riveted by an expertly acted show with an intensely fascinating show then you should run, nay, drive down to the Horizon and check out End Days. Time is running out, the apocalypse is coming! (Not really, I'm only kidding! Or am I? I am ;)) [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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