There are certain topics that are smart to avoid when on a first date, or at Thanksgiving. How much money one makes, whom they voted for in the most recent election, and the debate of science vs. religion. All of these tend to end ugly, or with food all over the walls. In “End Days,” Williamston Theatre’s latest triumph, money and politics aren’t discussed, but you can bet science and religion are. Just wait until you see Jesus drinking Starbucks and Stephen Hawking wheeling around a high school.
Did I forget to mention that 9/11 also plays a large role in Deborah Zoe Laufer’s script? While this may sound like the beginnings of an extremely heavy show, believe it or not, this is a comedy. Laufer’s script may have serious moments, but don’t worry, you’ll be caught laughing more than reaching for your hankie.
For mom Sylvia (powerhouse Emily Sutton-Smith in a brilliant performance), religion has become her savior, pun intended, after leaving New York shortly after 9/11. For head strong, Gothic dressed daughter Rachel (Lydia Hiller in her Williamston debut), science is much more her speed.
There’s also dad Arthur (John Manfredi), a man who hasn’t gotten dressed, or gone outside, since 9/11 and Nelson (Eric Eilersen), the boy next door that loves Rachel, and dresses like Elvis. Oh, Jesus and Stephen Hawking (Andrew Head in dual roles) also make a few appearances and the Apocalypse is coming on Wednesday to get them all. Somehow this is only the tip of the show’s iceberg, with so much love, loss and trauma holding it up in its icy waters.
While Head is often the comedic relief Manfredi steals the show. As Arthur, a man haunted by 9/11 and the 65 coworkers that went down with the World Trade Center, Manfredi will make you feel every emotion in the book. There are two moments in the show that will leave you with chills and when he gives his monologue in Act 2, well, watch out. If you don’t tear up at least once when he’s on stage you might want to make sure you have a heart.
Lane Frangomeli’s costumes add to the many layers of the characters with details that have stories of their own. Ryan Davies’ lighting design and Jason Painter Price’s sound design also speak volumes about the show without having to actually say anything.
Combining both veterans and newbies to the Williamston stage director Tony Caselli has a cast that you so badly want to root for. You want to watch this weird family come together. Most importantly, you just want them to succeed, and not die in the Apocalypse. Caselli’s direction takes simple moments and turns them into ones of great importance, showing how much healing power love can have.