‘End Days’ leaves audiences happy

“End Days” features Sara Morsey as a wife and mother who often encounters Jesus, played by Mark Woollett, at the Hippodrome State Theatre through Jan. 30.

Published: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 1:19 p.m.

Remember Roger Miller, that zany musical genius who wrote, “You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd, but you can be happy if you’ve a mind to”? His quirky observation comes to mind while watching “End Days,” Deborah Zoe Laufer’s wacky, wonderful and endearing comedy at the Hippodrome State Theatre.


‘End Days’

What: Deborah Zoe Laufer’s comedy about a quirky family and the member’s acceptance of each other.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 Sundays through Jan. 30
Where: Hippodrome State Theatre, 25 SE Second Place
Tickets: $25-$30, $20 seniors and military personnel, $12 students; all seats are $12-$15 for tonight’s preview.
Info: 374-4477 or www.thehipp.org

“Having a mind to be happy” is what “End Days” is all about for the characters in Laufer’s play, a disparate foursome who make up the Stein family (plus one). From the moment “End Days” begins with a Hebrew chant and a Christian melody heard in a kind of mash, followed by the entrance of 16-year-old Nelson, a would-be Elvis singing “Rachel Stein” to the tune of “Love Me Tender,” audiences are hooked. Smiles are all around the theater.

The Stein family doesn’t have to negotiate a buffalo herd in their lives, but each of them suffers from emotional distress related to the events of Sept. 11. Arthur, a former executive who worked in the twin towers of New York City, has not left the family’s condo in days. Wearing pajamas, he lies slumped across the kitchen table, unable to sleep at night and napping all day.

Sylvia, formerly an orthodox Jewish wife, has become a Christian evangelist who walks and talks with Jesus at her side. Literally. (Invisible to others, a bearded Jesus dressed in flowing robes, responds to her every word.) Daughter Rachel, a rebellious and angry 16-year-old, dresses like a goth complete with heavy makeup and an outfit straight out of Marilyn A. Wall’s fabulous Charles Addams collection. A math and physics whiz, Rachel has no wish to be saved by Sylvia’s passionate pleas to accept Jesus. Sylvia lives for the day when the world ends, but she doesn’t want to be saved if Rachel is left behind.

Enter Nelson. Knocking on the door of the dysfunctional family’s condo, this sweet, nerdy adolescent searches for Rachel with whom he has fallen in love. Nelson has no ax to grind, or, you could say he has many axes, all blunt, all good. Nelson is empathetic with Arthur, inquisitive and acquiescing with Sylvia, enthusiastically scientific with Rachel. He encourages her to read Stephen Hawking’s books and wears her down with his acceptance of her family’s eccentricities.

Nelson, who is converting from Christianity to Judaism, sings his torah portion to Arthur and gets him to respond. The condo’s pantry, bare of groceries for an indeterminate time, is filled with food when Nelson moves Arthur to go grocery shopping. Nelson goes to an evangelical meeting with Sylvia and, impressed by the enthusiasm, is willing to go every Sunday. He finds nothing odd or conflicting about taking part in two religions. He really lights up when talking to Rachel about the origin of the universe and the big bang. Reason? Fine. Faith? Fine. There’s no conflict for him as, little by little, he knits together this fragmented family.

The problem arises when Sylvia misinterprets Jesus and believes the world will end on Wednesday, specifically. She lines up the family to wait for the Rapture, and you find yourself rooting for her. Let the world end — Sylvia should not be disappointed! When things don’t turn out exactly as planned, Arthur asks if what they have here today isn’t enough? Can’t they just enjoy each other in the moment? He helps Sylvia to see that she is not a failure, but someone who does good in the world. Sylvia and Arthur have what seems like an awkward reconciliation, a fault of the author, who hasn’t given them much to work with in the way of affection along the way to make their love believable.

Lauren Caldwell has given her usual expert direction to a fine group of ensemble actors, however. Credit David Sitler for playing the morose-but-salvageable Arthur with a slowly awakening zest for life. Sara Morsey, as Sylvia, gives a moving performance as she struggles to choose between faith and family. Jennifer Smith as Rachel is totally delightful both when she’s a brat and when she’s daddy’s little girl. Mark Woollett is very funny in the dual roles of Jesus and Stephen Hawking.

But the show’s treat is Filipe Valle Costa, who plays Nelson. Costa makes Nelson a completely lovable character; inquisitive, accepting, giving, passionate, kind. Speaking with the author’s voice, he is saying that it’s all good: Christianity, Judaism, science, faith. Whatever road you choose to take, “you can be happy if you’ve a mind to.”

You don’t have to set your mind at happy when you watch “End Days.” Costa and the Hipp’s production will do that for you.

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