Recently we have heard the end of the world is near from the current Mayan Calendar running out – to Harold Camping’s prediction of the Rapture last May. Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s latest zany and though-provoking production of Deborah Zoe Laufer’s End Days fits perfectly in these uncertain times. The play finds a family and an outcast boy preparing for the end.
Matthew Lee (Nelson) plays a 16 year-old Elvis impersonator. The show opens with him performing in the school cafeteria and milk cartons and other objects being thrown at him. Throughout the play he comes away with assorted injuries, and his Elvis impersonation does not go over very well in a modern high school. Costume Designer Tirza Fogle has some fun with his Elvis costumes which dare to go beyond the classic famous white one.
Caitlyn Joy (Rachel) plays Nelson’s romantic interest. She is also the daughter of an extreme born again Christian and a dad who has checked out on life after the bombings of 9/11. Rachel plays a teen who dresses in a Goth style so people will leave her alone. However, Nelson won’t leave her alone. Caitlyn performance is funny and sad and so convincing.
Laura K. Stark (Sylvia) portrays the born again Christian mom who really thinks Jesus is with her and that the Rapture is coming on Wednesday. Her performance is filled with anger especially when she feels people are mocking her or don’t believe her. She is afraid that her family might not be saved. But at times she shows love for her husband and there are some moving scenes, including a touching one where she gives her husband a tender kiss and wraps her arms around him.
Brian Irons (Arthur) plays the dad who is a shell of his former self. He is the lone survivor of his office, where he was a Vice President, after it is attacked. He is unable to work and sits around the apartment. Brian dominates the stage and you can see the pain written on every inch of his face. All through the performance, Brian drew the most reaction and response from the audience. It’s a powerful and heartfelt performance.
Matt Baughman (Jesus, Stephen Hawking) is a master of gestures as he portrays Sylvia’s Jesus. He also portrays the wheelchair-bound Stephen Hawking and he shines in both roles. You believe Matt deserves some credit for being able to move the motorized wheelchair across the stage. Rachel is the one who experiences Stephen much like her mom experiences Jesus. Baughman adds more laughs to the comedy with both characters. One of the funniest moments is when Jesus and Sylvia are waiting for sinners and they are drinking coffee together in Starbuck-like Jesus cups.
Set Designer Milee McDonald strikes gold with the kitchen in this play. It is a main area in the play as Arthur for most of the play does not get food. The set is interchangeable between the apartment and the school. McDonald is able to pull it off with doors, lockers, coaches, chairs, tables, and some visual effects.
In the end, the beliefs in Jesus or Hawking don’t matter compared to the power of a family’s love. When outcasts work together they change into something accepted.
Director Tad Janes directs a great cast and turns End Days into a comedy which will make you laugh and think.
Go see End Days before the world ends!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with a 15 minute intermission