Just days after we started to recover from the political season, with its ample angst and agita, playwright Jon Elston, director Scott Behrend and their Road Less Traveled Productions have given us something scarier to worry about: doomsday predictions about the possible end of the world Dec. 21 of this year. Thanks, guys.
Elston, who has written other plays and stories about creepy stuff and the paranormal, has become interested in the ancient Mayan civilization and its Long Count calendar, one calculated centuries ago with an end date corresponding to about a month from now.
According to some eschatologists (philosophers or theologians who study end-of-the-world theories, both professionals and kooks), a 1,872,000 time period called a “b’ak’tun” will come to a screeching halt on the winter solstice, ending a Fourth World and beginning a Fifth.
“2012: End of the Road” is Elston’s take on all of this, and it’s pretty bleak. Elston’s research – he meticulously digs into his topics – has uncovered talk of “dark rifts” in the Mayan underworld, where rivers are filled with scorpions, blood or pus. Geez, call FEMA. But, there’s more. Elston throws in a zombie or two, giant bats, a snarling jaguar, a young woman with narcolepsy, a Bible-toting and quoting fanatic, an Iraq veteran with recovery issues, assorted others, a blizzard of epic proportions (hail, wind, power outages, numbing cold; thuds and thumps, roars and rumblings) and considerable bloodletting. Electionlike, but much worse.
Eight travelers, each with a story to tell, are stranded in a New York State Thruway rest stop on Dec. 21, 2012, a dark and stormy night. A nod to Agatha Christie. A new arrival tells of seeing an “avalanche” wipe out the Rainbow Bridge. There is interminable talk of the worsening weather and what to do, if anything. Arguments rage, nerves tense, alliances form. The Mayan theory surfaces just before the power goes out – except for a cash register digital message board with cryptic writing and odd numerology. Ominous.
Some of the trapped are stoic, others freak; it’s a volatile mix. “Hopeless,” someone says.
Soon, “2012,” which has lived in shadows, goes dark. The story – often plausible but veering to the preposterous in a Mayan minute – doesn’t end here, but what I will tell you does, except that a Fifth World could await anyone who survives. Maybe.
Director Behrend’s cast gets an exhaustive workout, and it is stellar: Barry Williams, David Mitchell (invaluable), Xavier Harris, Bob Grabowski (stalwart, as always), Christina Rausa (a rare sighting for this true acting diva), Sara Kow Falcone (elfin and wise), the fine Monish Bhattacharyya and Kay Kerimian, as sleepy, troubled Twyla.
The lauds come with an asterisk: Whatever happened to diction and voices projecting beyond the first rows? Elston can write – he excels at dialogue, monologue and repartee. Here, some of that spark is frequently gone or garbled, particularly afterthoughts or desperately needed comic asides. Behrend might examine this; the play deserves Elston’s noteworthy gift of language to be heard with clarity.
The RLTP technical crew deserves high praise: Jeremy Delgado, John Rickus, Katie Menke. Set, lighting and sound, respectively.
Elston and Behrend have succeeded in their goals for “2012: End of the Road.” They wanted audiences to think and talk about this new and topical play. Done.
Me? Not convinced. But, just in case, investing in some fine brandy, some wings and a Diana Krall CD or two might ease the thought of a December date with the apocalyptic.
“2012: End of the Road”
3 stars (Out of four)
Through Dec. 2 in Road Less Traveled, 639 Main St. For information, call 629-3069 or visit www.roadlesstraveled productions.org.