Epistemology Goes Bonkers
Review by Norm Robins
Photos by Dana Nollsch
Some thoughts on End Days by Debra Zoe Laufer
End Days is the latest performance at the Sparks Restless Artists Theater. It is a play in the classic theater form. That is, it has two heavies, Sylvia Stein played by Judy Davis Rounds and her husband Arthur Stein played by Don A. Phillips. It has two lights, their daughter Rachel played by Abigail Strasmann and a neighbor Nelson Steinberg played by Colin Unrun. Sylvia, who is nominally Jewish believes the world will end soon, as a matter of fact, that very Wednesday, and to survive the end of days everyone must take Jesus into their hearts and repent for their sins. She proselytizes everyone and anyone who comes within her ambit. Jesus, played by Brian Ault (who also plays Stephen Hawking, an unlikely combination if ever there was one) appears onstage and seems to be a vending machine feeding Sylvia religious pamphlets to hand out, what we now call just-in-time delivery. This is not your stereotypical Jewish mother. Rachel, on the other hand, is an atheist. She lets her mother know this in no uncertain terms. Arthur is a survivor of the World Trade Center after having been attacked on 9/11. In an earlier day he would have been a death camp survivor with a small, blue 5-digit number tattooed on his forearm. He has been traumatized by his survival and is catatonic. Nelson, who walks around in an Elvis getup has a crush on Rachel. Rachel has no time for Elvis, oops, I mean Nelson
Nelson’s peers think he is weird, and at every opportunity they throw empty water bottles and orange juice containers at him from offstage. This is a harmless version of incoming fire on a battlefield. In both cases, those on the receiving end have to duck. As Sylvia is enraptured by Jesus so Nelson is enraptured by Stephen Hawking and his book A Brief History of Time. He obsesses over this book. He gives a copy of it to Rachel and explains it to her. He tells her light can be a particle or a wave. If you ask light the particle a question you will get a particle answer. If you ask light the wave a question you will get a wave answer. ( Just for the record, this is brilliant. Out of the mouth of babes etc. etc. etc.) For the moment Rachel doesn’t care.
Nelson is Arthur’s savior, not Jesus and not Hawking. Nelson pulls him out of the torpor of his catatonic state by sheer dint of effort. Nelson’s youth and energy are irrepressible. Nelson takes him shopping for groceries and forces him to get excited again about cooking, indeed about life itself. Arthur in turn helps Nelson prepare for his bar mitzvah by working with him on his haftarah, what he has to memorize and recite at his bar mitzvah. Laufer, who should know better, confuses the Torah with a haftarah. They are different. It takes a man to recite from the Torah. A boy is not yet ready. A tip of the hat by the way to Nelson and Arthur. Hebrew is a tough language for a non-Jew or an assimilated one to get his head around. They both do pretty well in this—not perfect, but well. It shows how hard actors have to work to get this sort of thing right.
So, the question the play asks is what will give us the answer, religion or science. This is a question epistemology has been asking for a long time. The denouement is that Jesus doesn’t matter to these characters nor does Hawking. What matters to this foursome is the foursome itself. They have and cherish each other. In the simple day to day existence, they are each other’s saviors. That’s enough, or in mathematical terms that is necessary and sufficient. Sylvia says if she can’t have her family with her when the end of days comes she isn’t going. She will stay put with her family no matter what.
The play starts slowly, and early on, one wonders where it is going. What’s the purpose of having all these zanies on stage? What is the author trying to tell us? It picks up the pace in a while, and it becomes interesting. Then it becomes very interesting. When the denouement comes the audience knows it is a heartwarming play, and all the craziness that came before it somehow makes sense. All the loose ends have been tied up into a coherent whole. Perhaps the zanies onstage aren’t really zany at all.
- Judy Davis Rounds
- Don A, Phillips
- Abigail Strasmann
- Colin Unruh
- Brian Ault
- Directed By Julie Robertson
“End Day” plays through March 31, 2019
For more information check out RAT’s website: http://rattheatre.org/