It’s the end of the world and we like it

There isn’t a lot of literature about 9/11. The attack on the World Trade Center has given the nation a case of post-traumatic stress disorder. With End Days, Deborah Zoe Laufer just might change that.

In her play, the Stein family is reeling from the attack in New York. Each copes in his or her own way: Arthur, the father, has collapsed into depression after surviving the collapse of the towers, the only one of 64 in his office to live. His wife Sylvia has become a born-again Christian who campaigns for repentance before the rapture, which she’s convinced will happen this Wednesday. Their daughter, Rachel, dresses as a Goth to keep others at bay. Into their lives comes a classmate, Nelson, who wears a white Elvis Presley outfit like a medieval shield. An admirer of Rachel and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, he places his faith in love and his trust in science.

Arthur has given up on life. Sylvia still fears she’ll lose Arthur and Rachel in another disaster. Nelson is learning Hebrew for his bar mitzvah and views his studies with awe and reverence, an approach that touches Arthur. And while the high school kids pick on him, Nelson can’t give up the security of his costume, which he associates with his late father. Sylvia talks to a Jesus only she can see and after reading Hawking’s book, Rachel talks to the scientist as he follows her in his wheelchair. Everyone has a different belief system, a different way of coping with a dangerous world.

Their beliefs collide at the end in a violent thunderstorm. Sylvia tempers her yearning for the afterlife with the realization that this one offers her the greatest hope for happiness. Arthur begins to recover his taste for living thanks to Nelson’s attentions and the boy and Rachel fall in love. The play is funny, dramatic and touching, one of the first attempts I’ve seen to deal with the aftermath of 9/11.

Directed by Lauren Caldwell, End Days stars Mark Woollett as Jesus/Stephen Hawkins, Filipe Valle Costa as Nelson, David Sitler as Arthur, Jennifer Smith as Rachel and Sara Morsey as Sylvia. It runs through Jan. 30 at the Hippodrome Theater in Gainesville, Florida.


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