Director Bari Newport hopes audience members of Maine’s inaugural production of the play “End Days” walk away from the performance at Penobscot Theatre with two things: one, a feeling they’ve had a good time and, two, more questions than they have answers to.
“End Days,” written by Deborah Zoe Laufer, follows the story of 16-year-old “goth” teen Rachel Stein as she navigates family and faith, asking, “What would Stephen Hawking do?”
The so-called “contemporary comedy [that] explores the intersection of science and faith,” stars Megan Ward, 17, a senior at Bangor High School, as Rachel and Charlie Hanscom, 18, a senior at John Bapst Memorial High School, as Nelson, a hopeful and buoyant teen with an affinity for Elvis.
Ward said she initially was drawn to the character Rachel because she related to her. Since then, she has grown to love the challenge the play provides.
“She’s looking for answers to unanswerable questions, and I think that’s so me,” Ward said. “The hardest part would be dissecting the scripts; they’re deeply psychological and have so many hidden things. Trying to find them and understand what it means has been a fun and challenging process.”
Hanscom also said he was drawn to his character.
“What I love about Nelson is how optimistic he is,” he said. “The odds have always been against him, yet he has all this optimism and joy to share.”
Hanscom and Ward are joined by Penobscot Theatre Co. veteran actor A.J. Mooney and Doug Meswarb as Rachel’s parents and Zachary Robbins as Jesus Christ and Stephen Hawking.
Initially, Newport had some hesitation about the bringing the play to Bangor because of it’s not-so-subtle religious overtones. However, just a week before opening night, those hesitations are gone.
“I have every confidence that it will be well-received,” Newport said. “It’s told through the lens of a 16-year-old girl, which is a fresh take on how to unpack such a complicated subject as science and religion.”
Penobscot Theatre is producing the play in partnership with the inaugural Maine Science Festival and will hold a series of panel discussions before or after three performances:
— “Ready, Set Think,” 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12. The discussion will take place on stage before the first preview performance and, according to a press release, is designed to “provide context and provoke thought.”
— “Talk Back,” 5:30-6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 15. This “talk back” will give the audience a chance to hear from the cast and creative team about the production. It is a regular feature of Penobscot Theatre Co. productions.
— “Afterthoughts,” 5:30-6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 22. Organizers hope this discussion goes beyond the broad themes of the play to talk about specific questions raised by the storyline and give them a chance to explore audience reactions.
“End Days” runs from March 12 through March 29 at the Bangor Opera House with performances Wednesdays through Sundays. Tickets start at $22 and are available online or by calling 207-942-3333.