The End Times Review - A Question of Faith

Playwright Jesse Mu-En Shao lived the life of the cult zealot. He draws from his own experiences to let the outsider in for just a moment to see what goes on in a secret cult society. He effectively shares his thoughts and feelings about what religion can give - and what it can take away. In the play, Shao calls his cult The Lord’s Restoration, which quickly affords the opportunity for a comparison with other similar Los Angeles groups like Scientology and Berg’s Kabbalah Center. THE END TIMES is a powerful study of what faith is and should be and how vulnerable people can become enmeshed in groups that offer love, caring, and complete acceptance in exchange for giving up freedom of thought and refraining from judicious inquiry.

 

Christian T. Chan - Photo by Playwright's Arena

Tim (Christian T. Chan) is just entering young adulthood. He has been raised as a faithful and unquestioning follower of The Lord’s Restoration. He is happy and believes that the cult’s goals and his goals are aligned. He has been in love with Ruthann (Mariah Robinson), also a life-long church devotee, for his entire life and hopes to make her his bride someday. But his contentment will come to an abrupt end when Evan (Matt Pascua), his best friend since childhood and also a member of the group, is cast out from the church for “living in his mind.” As it turns out, Evan is not only thrown out of the church, but he is now absolutely alone since anyone he ever cared about is still part of the group from which he is now considered to be an anathema. Only Tim keeps covert communication with Evan, and he slowly begins to question some of the basic tenets of The Lord’s Restoration as he sees his friend’s pain.

 

Alexander Pimentel, Mariah Robinson, and Christian T. Chan - Photo by Playwright's Arena

Author Shao presents a moving study of an approach-avoidance conflict of faith. How can a faithful follower turn his back on the ideas that mean everything to him? Yet how can that same zealous follower ignore what he knows is right? Even if his “right” is in direct contradiction to the teachings of the ministry? And forbidden by minister Nelson’s televised preaching? A loving hug may quickly turn into a lethal chokehold if Tim is not careful.

 

Christian T. Chan and Nick Cimiluca - Photo by Playwright's Arena

Director Jon Lawrence Rivera is the artistic director of Playwright’s Arena, and he directed THE END TIMES, a joint production between the Skylight Theatre Company and the Playwright’s Arena. Director Rivera manages to balance the dilemmas which Tim faces with a gentle but rational approach. The controversial topic of cults is treated with sensitivity and understanding. Christopher Scott Murillo’s set is cleverly turned into multiple scenes by McLeod Benson’s carefully planned and well-placed lighting. Of special note is Lily Bartenstein’s jagged piecemeal video, flooding the stage with light and sound as the enraptured followers of The Lord’s Restoration incorporate the never-to-be-questioned church doctrines.

 

Matt Pascua and Christian T. Chan - Photo by Playwright's Arena

THE END TIMES, a co-production of the Skylight Theatre Company and the Playwright’s Arena, runs through May 15, 2016, with performances at 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Skylight Theatre is located at 1816 ½ N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Ticket range from $15 to $34. For reservations, call 213-761-7061 or go online at www.skylighttix.com.

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