Deborah Zoe Laufer’s End Days follows a Jewish family traumatized by the events of September 11, 2001. Arthur (John Manfredi) never leaves the house, gets dressed, or even wakes up for very long. His wife Sylvia (Emily Sutton-Smith) has become a fundamentalist Christian who proselytizes every chance she gets, with the help of her constant companion, Jesus (yes…THAT Jesus), played by Andrew Head (who also plays Stephen Hawking… yes THAT Stephen Hawking). Their daughter Rachel (Lydia Hiller) is a surly goth chick with a mouth as colorful as her crazy wigs. The picture is rounded out by the new neighbor Nelson (Eric Ellerseen) – an awkward kid whose refusal to wear anything other than his spangled Elvis jumpsuit earns him some ire from his fellow students.
In this production, director Tony Caselli does an excellent job of balancing the ridiculous with the heartfelt; the controversial with the contemplative. There is a lot to laugh at in this show, but somehow no one ever really feels like the butt of the joke. There is a delicacy to the writing and the production that allows the laughter to be shared rather than brandished – an admirable and tricky undertaking, in my opinion.
The performances were delightful across the board. Sutton-Smith brings a lovely earnestness to Sylvia’s conflict between her fervent faith and her love for her family. Manfredi as Arthur is an excellent father figure, playing his pain, his joy and his hope with depth and wit. Hiller’s Lydia is pointy in all the right places, carefully revealing her vulnerability bit by bit until we are finally able to see the human underneath all the white makeup, black clothing, and anger. And Ellerseen’s Nelson plays the endearing spaz-next-door with such sincerity and fun, I found myself missing him any time he wasn’t on stage. Finally, Head’s strange turn as Jesus and Stephen Hawking is surprisingly respectful and wry. There is a sensitivity to the portrayal of these characters that sacrifices neither the comedy nor the real-world connotations they bring with them on stage. Kudos to Head and Caselli for navigating that tricky little theatrical strait.
Kirk Domer’s scenic design is clever and versatile. He did a great job building in the weirdness of the world and the functionality demanded by the presentation – plus a nice little reveal in the second act. Ryan Davies’s lights follow the evolving mood of the play skillfully, and are an excellent foil to Domer’s set as they jump from location to location. And sound designer Jason Painter Price rounded out the well-integrated design with purposeful and fun sounds. Lane Fragomeli’s costumes (especially on Hiller and Ellerseen) effectively communicated the off-kilter world of the play.
I wish I had seen this sooner, so I could tell you to go see it, but unfortunately End Days by Deborah Zoe Laufer (Director: Tony Caselli; Arthur: John Manfredi; Sylvia: Emily Sutton-Smith; Rachel: Lydia Hiller; Nelson: Eric Ellerseen; Jesus/Stephen Hawking: Andrew Head) closes today, March 24. For more information, visit http://www.jettheatre.org/.