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Cal Rep’s ‘End Days’ gives perspective on family relationships

“End Days” highlights controversial topics of religion, depression and family coping.

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Cal Rep’s ‘End Days’ gives perspective on family relationships

"End Days" features an emotionally distant father and a young, but wise Elvis-like neighbor.

Keith Ian Polakoff

"End Days" features an emotionally distant father and a young, but wise Elvis-like neighbor.

Keith Ian Polakoff

Keith Ian Polakoff

"End Days" features an emotionally distant father and a young, but wise Elvis-like neighbor.

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A family separated by trauma slowly knits themselves back together in “End Days,” a bittersweet comedy of four actors who reunite when they realize how desperately they need each other as the Rapture approaches.

Cal Rep’s latest performance forces audiences to see the importance of family by showing that the amount of time on Earth is too short to hold grudges. The play, directed by Beth Lopez, portrays controversial themes of religion, depression and family stress and coping.

The story takes place in 2001, when the Stein family leaves New York City for the suburbs after the father loses his job at the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Each family member receives advice from a series of counselors as they gradually learn the importance of family together.

Except none of the mentors are certified family counselors — they are deceased people such as Jesus Christ, Elvis Presley and Stephen Hawking.

Sylvia Stein, newly converted Christian mother, receives regular advice from Jesus Christ. Dressed in a white robe and sandals, he spends much of his time at Sylvia’s side giving her advice through strenuous situations. He is persistently present in the conscious of the Christian convert but remains unseen by the rest of the family.

The husband, Arthur Stein, appears to be in need of the most help. Arthur faces the trauma of being the sole survivor from his department after 9/11, which left him barely eating or sleeping. He has lost complete motivation to do anything as he suffers from survivor’s guilt ever since the traumatic day.

The family’s 16-year-old goth atheist daughter, Rachel, holds a pessimistic outlook in life after the attack due to the absence of both parents in the household. To compensate for this, she supplants friends with cigarettes. Eventually her neighbor and crush, Nelson Steinberg, lends her a copy of a book written by famous physicist, Stephen Hawking.

Despite Rachel’s religious mother raising her to hate science, she rebels. Hawking becomes her hero as she realizes that believing in science is easier than believing in Jesus since it’s based off facts.

Along with gifting the book to Rachel, he also gives her father hope for a safe recovery from his clinical depression. Steinberg mentions to Arthur that his father committed suicide, and he feels the need to save Arthur from the same fate.

Steinberg appears as Elvis to his neighbors as he carries a guitar and wears the same white vinyl suit everyday since his mother’s funeral. Although he lacks basic social skills, he is finally able to find a friend in Arthur as he drags him out of his traumatic daze. He asks Arthur to help prepare him for his upcoming bar mitzvah Torah reading in October.

Steinberg appears to be the most compelling creation, an antic mixture of sweet innocence and neurosi who is willing to believe in anything and everything. He sees no difficulty in declaring himself a believer in Sylvia’s Christian God, but he’s excited about Judaism and physics too.

Whether it is battling Satan with Sylvia, helping Arthur find interest in life again or teaching Rachel about science, he is a key element in helping the family build a healthy relationship again.

Just when things are starting to look up, Sylvia’s vision of Jesus tells her the Rapture is set for the upcoming Wednesday. The mother then becomes obsessive over whether Rachel and Arthur are good enough to get into heaven. She spends every waking moment of the day urging them to save themselves by repenting and preparing for the final judgment. In the end, she comes to the conclusion that she will have to pick between staying with her family on Earth or going alone into the opening arms of Jesus.

“End Days” teaches you that creating time for family members, communicating effectively and supporting each other are important ways to strengthen and build positive relationships. By watching each eccentric character come together in the end, we see the power of family triumph over fear and trauma.

Cal Rep will be performing “End Days” through May 12. Showtimes are at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for students and faculty and $20 for general public and are available online at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/34481.

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