By Deborah Zoe Laufer
Directed by Shade Murray
At Next Theatre
New twist on religious fever a humorous fable
Who said religion can’t be funny? Not playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer, whose End Days makes its Chicago premiere in a hilarious, smart production under director Shade Murray. End Days is a comedy about one family’s adventure to find faith and renewal. Sylvia Stein (Laura T. Fisher), once an Jewish atheist, now a “born again” Evangelical Christian and Rapture believer speaks and sees Jesus (Joseph Wycoff in white robe and crown of thorns). She is obsessed with spreading the word about the Rapture (the end of the world). Arthur Stein (William Dick) is an always sleepy man disillusioned by the 911 attack that killed 65 of his colleagues. He hasn’t gotten out of his pajamas in weeks. Rachel Stein (Carolyn Faye Kramer) is the cynical atheistic teen ‘goth’ girl in white face who scorns her mother’s religious fanaticism. She believes in science.
Enter Nelson Steinberg (Adam Shalzi), teen boy whose identify crisis includes dressing in a white Elvis jumpsuit while always carrying a guitar. His school mates constantly harass him. Nelson is a nerdy, yet pleasant and most positive fellow who pines for Rachel and befriends Arthur in a series of funny scenes. This kitchen sink comedy skillfully blends pokes at religious fanaticism as it shows that when in personal crisis, we tend to escape into blindly following extremist beliefs. Sylvia’s personal faith is thrust upon her husband and her unwilling daughter. We see Sylvia seeing Jesus personified on stage.
Nelson is the charming, big-hearted teen who wins Rachel, helps Arthur cope and gives Sylvia the benefit of the doubt as to the validity of the coming Rapture. This is a breakthrough role for Adam Shalzi whose terrific comedic timing and sincerity wins completely. Shalzi’s natural warmth and truthfulness has a healing tone through the laughter he garners. Without revealing too much, let me say that playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer’s script is cliché-free as it contains a surprising ending that is both plausible and smart. This show intelligently, with loads of wit, pokes at using religious fanaticism to heal our personal wounds. Laufer suggests a more human source of renewal and faith to fill our needs. Without being ‘preachy’ or condescending, End Days unfolds as a funny look at the role of faith in human relations. This show is hilarious and healing. Elvis to the rescue?
At Next Theatre, in the Noyes Cultural Center, 927 Noyes Street, Evanston, IL, call 847-475-1875, www.nexttheatre.org , tickets $25 -$40, Wednesdays at 1 pm, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.