'Days' to remember

By Tom Helma

Williamston show examines eccentric post-9/11 nuclear family

How do we respond, how do we recover from a national trauma? “End Days,” now playing at the Williamston Theater, shows the unfolding impact of the 9/11 experience on a nuclear family. Although there may very well be 10,000 aftermath stories of that fateful September day, this story is more than just another one.

Writer Deborah Zoe Laufer’s script gives us a glimpse of the reasons that sometimes lurk behind a person going off the deep end of catastrophic religious thinking, and how our seemingly nutty extremism twists the lives of our closest loved ones. Emily Sutton-Smith as Sylvia is accompanied on stage by an iconic Jesus, who is invisible to her family but fully dominant in her thoughts. She is take-me-Jesus ready for the immediacy of the apocalypse, but wrenchingly concerned as well for the salvation of the souls of her clinically depressed, emotionally shut-down husband, Arthur, and her angry, rebellious teenage daughter, Rachel.

Sutton-Smith is all sweaty-earnest in this role, determinedly one-dimensional, exuding the character of a drab, humorless and androgynous android, one who has given up hope on this world and yearns desperately for a safe forever after. Arthur, played by John Manfredi, is no help whatsoever; he’s a CEO who survived the attack on the Twin Towers while his entire staff of 60 was annihilated.

Sutton-Smith is stuck for almost all the play in the never-changing role of the religiously delusional Sylvia. Arthur, however, slowly comes back to life emotionally as a richly textured, deeply caring individual.

He is aided in this transformational journey by his teenage neighbor, Nelson, played by Eric Eilerson in a dazzling Elvis outfit. Nelson has an existential trauma of his own to work through. Eilerson brings a naïve, wide-eyed innocence to the stage that is considerably endearing. He plays well against the numbed-out Arthur and—most engagingly — against the slightly older and cynically burned out Rachel (Lydia Hiller), a wonderfully tricked-out gawk that is part Goth, part drama queen and explosively pissed off by her mother’s religiosity.

Hiller sports a wide range of wigs and get-ups ranging from skeletal to scary, embodying a lost soul screaming for attention.

Just when one thinks this constellation of characters cannot get any crazier, Stephen Hawking appears — motorized wheelchair and all — to offer a slightly more reasoned explanation as to the likelihood of the world coming to an end than that of St. John of the Apocalypse.

Is there comfort and reassurance in the notion that the world might not end for at least 100 years as opposed to the day after tomorrow? Laufer poses that question engagingly in this play, reminding us all that nothing beyond the present moment is entirely real.

“End Days”
Williamston Theatre
Through Feb. 24
8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
$20 Thursdays/Friday-Saturday evenings; $22 Saturday/Sunday matinees/$10 students/$2 senior discount
122 S. Putnam St.
(517) 655-7469