“End Days” by Deborah Zoe Laufer

“End Days”
by Deborah Zoe Laufer
Full-cast performance featuring: Josh Clark, Shannon Cochran, Dane DeHaan, Arye Gross, Kenneth Houston and Kate Rylie.
Produced by L. A. Theatre Works
2 Hours and 22 minutes

Being a fan of theatre, I get a little anxious when I see coming up on my reading list something from L.A. Theatre works. I think even more so when it is a contemporary play such as this one. By the way, Yes, I make a list of books to read.

The production quality behind L.A. Theatre Works’ releases is always high, which is why I look forward to these audio theatre performances. The casts of all their works are perfect, but what makes it even more entertaining, is that while these are plays for viewing L.A. Theatre Works takes the time to produce these into great audio drama. The sound effects, music, and acting all place the listener into the middle of the audience.

This time around the play “End Days,” came up on my list and I wasn’t sure what to think. Reading the synopsis on the L.A. Theatre Works website (http://www.latw.org )gave me a good idea.

“In Deborah Zoe Laufer s End Days, a suburban family is undergoing a spiritual crisis following the September 11th attacks. Sylvia Stein has turned to Christianity to save her disaffected husband Arthur and her rebellious teenage daughter Rachel. But as Sylvia races around preparing for the Rapture, Rachel is learning that there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in her philosophy.” The performance also includes an interview with physicist and theologian Robert John Russell (Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences).

Science and Religion both represented in one play? I knew there was going to be some sort of clash and then a ripping apart of the very fabric of reality. But no, that wasn’t quite it. To look at this play you have to first examine the quirks of each of the main characters.

First off we have Nelson Steinburg who lost both his parents. His mother was a big fan of Elvis and one year for halloween he dressed as Elvis and his mother loved it. At her funeral and ever since he has dressed as Elvis. This strange way of dressing gets him beat up a lot in school, but Nelson is so optimistic about life that it doesn’t bother him. With his new “Step-Parents” he is converting to Judaism and is getting ready for his Bar Mitzvah and memorizing sections of the Torah. He has also become infatuated with the new neighbor, Rachel Stein. He gives her a copy of the Stephen Hawking book “A Brief History of Time,” telling her it will changer her life. Nelson is not only uber optimistic, he is also eager to please everyone.

Rachel Stein is the daughter of Sylvia and Arthur Stein. The Stein family has recently uprooted and fled Manhatten after the events of 9/11. The family has all been devastated by the tragedy and have coped with the devastation in their own way. Rachel has become a bit anti-social and Goth. But when she read’s the Hawking book, she soon starts getting spiritual guidance from an etherial Stephen Hawking.

Sylvia Stein has decided to take Jesus into her life, maybe more than that, she seems to have conversations with Jesus every moment in her life. He even offers her sweetener when she’s having coffe, “yes, thank you, Jesus.” To which Jesus replies, “You’re welcome, I love you.” Sylvia has taken it upon herself to have everyone in the world know Jesus. She hands out pamphlets all day, and holds prayer vigils. When Jesus comes to her in a dream and let’s her know the Rapture is coming, she does everything she can to make sure her family is taken in the Rapture.

Arthur Stein was in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 and was the only person in his company to escape and survive. Since leaving Manhatten has never left the house, even worse he has never even gotten out of his pajamas. He lives life only to nap and suffer his own depression. And with all the family members coping in their own way he only sinks deeper.

Nelson is the catalyst which stirs up the whole family and gets them on the path to healing and feeling. He confesses his love for Rachel to Arthur, even if he’s only known her a couple of days. Eventually he convinces Arthur to get dressed and go to the store when Rachel gets upset about never having any food in the house. Rachel wants cereal and only Nelson can save this crisis. Not knowing what kind of cereal his own daughter likes, Arthur is convinced by Nelson to buy one of each.

Nelson also shows Rachel that Science is a great way to finding answers to everything and that even if you don’t find the answers it’s the questioning that will lead you to the right path.

Sylvia is convinced the Rapture is Wednesday and insists that all the family stay together that day and pray. Nelson even offers to make the dip and the family, including Nelson, prepare for the Rapture.

This play is one of the most uplifting performances I’ve heard in a long time. Everything from helping the depressed, finding truth, and even questioning life is included in this performance. While listening to this performance I ran the gamut of emotions, a bit of sadness, elation, pure joy. Each one of these included outbursts that I’m glad I was alone while listening, anyone seeing me go through these emotions in such a short period would have probably thought I was a bit unstable. But the writing and the performance in this kept me alert and at the end I was emotionally cleansed.