by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Gainesville’s Hippodrome Theatre opened its first play of 2011 with Deborah Zoe Laufer’s quirky comedy End Days. It will run through January 30 at 25 SE 2nd Place. Call (352) 375-4477 or visit their website at www.thehipp.org for information and reservations.
Going to the Hippodrome is like going to New York because they strive to bring us the newest plays from the Big Apple as soon as possible. End Days is a good example: the play received a Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics citation in 2008 as an outstanding new play.
As the play opens, we meet the Stein family, whose lives changed dramatically in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They’ve left New York for a well-kept condo in a suburban setting, in a state that’s not identified in the script.
Arthur Stein (David Sitler) is deeply depressed. He’s lost his job and sixty-five friends and he feels guilty and worthless. He stays at home in his pajamas, doesn’t eat or sleep well, and rarely bathes.
His wife, Sylvia (Sara Morsey) was raised in the Jewish faith, but three months ago became an evangelical Christian convert, and is dedicated to preparing herself, her family, her friends, and anyone else who will listen to her for the coming rapture, when the saved will ascend to heaven. Jesus has entered her life, and is in fact a supportive presence on stage with her, although seen and heard only by her and members of the audience. Mark Woollett is a wonderful looking Jesus, worthy of passion play consideration in the future.
Their attractive but rebellious teenage daughter Rachel (Jennifer Smith) has no religious beliefs, and likes to use profanity to express her feelings. She dresses in Goth black, wears black lipstick, and isn’t close to anyone. That changes when Nelson Steinberg (Filipe Valle Costa), a fellow student and a neighbor, becomes enamored with her. He has his peculiarities. He dresses like his idol Elvis at all times, and wears his white satin jumpsuit everywhere, including school.
Rachel and Nelson become friends after he introduces her to “A Brief History of Time,” written by physicist Stephen Hawking. The disabled scientist (in another brilliant performance by Mr. Woollett) appears in his wheelchair from time to time as her spiritual advisor.
Sylvia presses Jesus to tell her the exact day the rapture will occur. She interprets his words and actions to mean that the end days are here. The rapture is scheduled for Wednesday. She shares the news with her family, and Nelson, and involves them in planning how they will spend their last evening on earth together.
This is as far as we will take you in this interesting journey. The play has a lot of humor, with most of it in the second act as the skeptical participants prepare chips, dips and other snacks while waiting for the sound of trumpets, as Sylvia prays.
We found this off-beat comedy did provoke some soul-searching about the difficulties in loving each other when everyone has diverse philosophies. I found myself humming the 1966 song, “Alfie” with the lines “What’s it all about Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live?”
Director Lauren Caldwell has a superb cast that does some honest and very solid acting. Scenic Designer Kent Barrett’s elegant apartment was stylish and uncluttered, with hardware floors, granite countertops and custom wallpaper. The design conveyed a sense that finances were not a problem for the family, leaving the characters and the audience free to concentrate their attention on emotional and spiritual issues.
Don’t miss this interesting play. If you can’t make it, check out the next two shows at The Hipp which will be equally exciting. From February 25 to March 20, Serendib by David Zellnik, the comedic hit of the First Light Festival, will be on stage; followed by, from April 15 through May 8, Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, the big London and Broadway hit with a cast of 4 actors who play over 150 characters. The Hipp is located in downtown Gainesville, and is an easy ninety-minute drive from Jacksonville.
END DAYS – theatre review
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM