Starting Thursday, the Auburn Area Community Theatre will begin a limited run of performances of "End Days," a family redemption story using 9/11 at its context that is at turns dark, humorous and uplifting.
Set in 2003, "End Days" tells the story of the Steins, who have fallen into dysfunction and away from each other in the two years since 9/11.
Enter Nelson Steinberg, the family's 16-year-old neighbor who wears an Elvis costume as a kind of security blanket and who injects himself into the family's life, including the life of Rachel Stein, the Goth daughter of the family who is looking for anyone to listen to her and who Nelson befriends.
"I love that this person spends time with the mom and finds out how she works and what she's afraid of and is a friend to the dad that is so depressed that he can't get out of his pajamas," said Andrea Holliday, artistic director for AACT who is playing the mother, Sylvia Stein, in the performances. "So it opens with a family that does not communicate well. They're not getting along. Everybody's got their own problem. And the catalyst (for redemption) is the neighbor that comes over, and he has such an open and hopeful personality that he has this very positive effect on each one of these characters."
It's slowly revealed that Sylvia and the rest of the family's dysfunctions can be traced back to the trauma of 9/11, as they redeem their relationships with each other with the help of Nelson, as well as Jesus and Stephen Hawking.
"Jesus is also a character because Jesus is Sylvia's security blanket. It's where she goes for her comfort," said Holliday. "I think the part of losing touch with your family, I think that's pretty universal. I think those emotions and being so afraid of something that you're either paralyzed with it or you make decisions about your lifestyle — you know, fear is a big motivator and it's just suddenly in the background of everybody's life."
Holliday said she has always enjoyed "End Days" since she first read it 10 to 15 years ago. The play was written by Deborah Zoe Laufer and was an atypical choice for AACT.
"I thought it was maybe a little too off the wall," said Holliday, who chose the show once she realized the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was approaching. She took the pitch to AACT's board of directors, who she said where very supportive.
"We kind of talked about, 'will this offend somebody? And, well, maybe it will. I hope not. But if we do it right and it's about the family, then I hope people will empathize with what they're going through," she said.
The show is not recommended for children under the age of 13 because of a drug-use reference and a couple instances of adult language.
"There's a couple of bad words in it and there's one scene where the rebellious daughter, it's implied she's smoking a joint," said Holliday, who said parents with questions about the play could contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are only four performances of the play, with the premiere on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center on East Drake Avenue. AACT will host 7 p.m. performances on Friday and Saturday night, and cap off the four-show run with a matinee performance at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors, with a portion of the proceeds going to Tuesday's Children, an organization formed after 9/11 that helps families.
Tickets can be purchased at www.auburnact.org or by calling 334-246-1084. Social distancing between groups and rows will also be in effect.
"I want people to know that it is a comedy, a heart-warming comedy," said Holliday. "Even though it's a 9/11 theme, it won't leave you drowning in your tears."