What if you learned from an unimpeachable source that the Rapture was coming — next Wednesday? In Deborah Zoe Laufer’s play “End Days,” now at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Sylvia Stein calls a few friends, warns the rest of the world in the Penny Saver and gathers her family to await salvation. But her family is more interested in snacks than repentance. “Could we all just stop with the chips?” Sylvia asks.
All of Laufer’s deliciously human characters get distracted from their existential despair by trivialities like chips (and sandwiches and social-studies quizzes). Even Sylvia’s personal relationship with Jesus (the wonderful Andrew Ableson, who also does a turn as Stephen Hawking) is mired in the mundane. Ableson’s Jesus looks like he stepped off a 6th century panel painting, but he behaves in ungodly ways, tapping Sweet n’ Low into his coffee, agreeing to “blink once for no, twice for yes” to Sylvia’s questions about the Rapture, and testily calling “Love you, too!” as he flees his needy disciple like an exasperated teenager.
Two years after 9/11, the Stein family is still reeling. Dad Arthur (an amiable Loren Lester) can’t get out of his pajamas. Sylvia (the mesmerizing spark plug Abigail Revasch) has embraced evangelical Christianity. Their high school daughter, Rachel (Zoe Perry, lovely and intense), is a disaffected, snarling Goth. On paper they’re ingredients for a standard dysfunctional family drama. (Yes, Tolstoy: Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, but after you’ve seen enough plays, all the ways start to look alike.). And get this: Their unlikely savior, Nelson (the unfailingly charming Charlie Saxton), is a teenage Elvis impersonator.
But Laufer’s unique sense of humor, Lisa James’ lighthearted direction and the actors’ enthusiasm ensure that “End Days,” even at its least plausible, sheds authentic light on the human condition. Jeff McLaughlin’s realistically drab kitchen set may promise a sitcom, but Laufer is as much an heir to Ionesco as to Sherwood Schwartz — and a playwright to watch.
“End Days,” Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 16. $25-$30. (310) 477-2055 orwww.OdysseyTheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours.
Photo: Jesus (Andrew Ableson, right) looks on approvingly as Sylvia (Abigail Revasch) proselytizes to Nelson (Charlie Saxton) in “End Days.” Credit: Enci