Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff From left: Tara Coffey (Rachel) Jennifer Richardson (Sylvia) and Chris Bange (Arthur) in CSULB Theatre Art’s End Day
Deftly directed by Beth Lopes, California Repertory’s End Days is an intriguing and humorous dark comedy-drama that raises difficult questions about the ability– or lack thereof– to love someone whose ideology contradicts yours. Continuing through May 12, End Days sheds light on some of the challenges of living in a universe too complicated for the human mind to decipher.
Lifetime atheist Sylvia Stein’s (Jennifer Richardson) coping mechanism with post-9/11 chaos and terror is converting to Evangelism. Her husband Arthur (Chris Bange), who used to work at the Twin Towers and lost over 60 colleagues, is too exhausted from insomnia to eat or shower. Sixteen-year-old daughter Rachel (Tara Coffey) is a goth who hates that her mother has “shut off part of her brain.”
A quiet, black-haired Jesus (Charles Denton) is the companion and spring of joy for Sylvia, who is busy doing good in the world, knocking on doors advertising her religion and feeding the poor. The only barrier to her thorough happiness is that her family seems unsavable by Christ.
Elvis appears with his guitar. Long-winded and accidentally funny adolescent neighbor Nelson (Matt Avery), in the cultural icon’s costume, charms the conflicting characters and gradually becomes a catalyst for their communication. Neglected by his stepparents, Nelson is motivated by his love for Rachel, but she calls him a “God-whore” for embracing Judaism, Christianity and science at the same time.
Rachel, who accuses her mother of being delusional about allowing Jesus in her heart, has her own fantasy of meeting the renowned physicist Steven Hawking (ironically also played by Denton/Jesus). What the women have in common is that they lose sight of what’s before them in their quest for understanding what’s bigger than they are.
Now the Apocalypse is approaching. The four traumatized characters with conflicting world views have to spend long hours together in preparation. Who is going to save them, Hawking or Jesus? Which matters most: the small moments of sharing a meal with family or the philosophical debates around existential dilemmas?
The set and prompts are astoundingly simple. A handful of chairs and tables, a magnet-covered fridge, a guitar and a couple of lamps create the school and home setting. The cast members are comfortable and confident in their roles, facilitating the “willing suspension of disbelief.”
The play by Deborah Zoe Laufer examines how arch enemies science and religion have more in common than some would like to admit. They both fail to quench human thirst for knowledge.