Deborah Zoe Laufer's play "End Days" is a look at the funny side of social anxiety.

Deborah Zoe Laufer's play "End Days" is a look at the funny side of social anxiety.

"The play's humor is interesting because the characters are real," says Evalyn Hansen, who is directing Ashland Contemporary Theatre's production of "End Days."

"It's like watching Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton: They experience absurd situations that are of their own doing because they have certain pathos."

"End Days" opens Friday, April 29, and runs through May 22 at Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, Ashland. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, April 29-30 and May 2, May 6-7 and 9, May 13-14 and 16, and Friday and Saturday, May 20-21. Matinees are at 2 p.m. Sundays, May 1, 8, 15 and 22.

The effects of religion and tragedies on families and communities is at the core of Laufer's lighthearted comedy, and the play marks the 20th anniversary of ACT.

"Religious tradition can bring families together," says Hansen. "But religious fanaticism can tear them apart. The play also explores the way tragic events can drive people to eccentricities and idiosyncrasies that, if left unchecked, can lead to full mental illness."

The Stein family is suffering from the effects of Sept. 11. Since the terrorist attacks on New York City, the father (David Mannix) has become severely depressed, and his wife (Diane Nichols) is visited by Jesus Christ on a daily basis. Their daughter, Rachel (Danielle Pecoff), has gone Goth and has her own hallucinatory visits with astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (Douglas Young plays Hawking and Jesus Christ). Throw in a young man (Max Gutfreund) with a crush on Rachel and a penchant for dressing as Elvis Presley, and you've got one dysfunctional bunch of characters.

"Their love for each other is what heals them," says Hansen. "That is pretty much the message of the play. We see each character blossom through being involved with one another."

Hansen says that Lue Douthit, a dramaturge at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, recommended Laufer's play to ACT.

ACT also chose the play to draw attention to the cultural buzz in various media about the transformation of the world as we know it, according to ACT's producing artistic director, Jeannine Grizzard.

Laufer penned "End Days" in 2007. It was awarded a Steinberg citation from The American Theatre Critics Association in 2008. The play premiered in 2009 at Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City. It is a 2009 recipient of a Helen Merrill Playwriting Award and a 2010 recipient of a Lilly Award.

Laufer's "Sirens" premiered at The Actor's Theatre of Louisville Humana Festival in 2010. Her newest play, "Leveling Up," was part of the Florida Stage 1st Stage New Works Festival in February.

"We found this play to be much deeper than we anticipated," says Hansen. "It's hilarious, but it's not a farce. It asks big questions, and people laugh because they connect on a personal level with these characters."

Gina Scaccia of Ashland has composed an original score for the musical transitions in Lauffer's play, along with themes for the characters. Scaccia will perform her score live during each performance of "End Days."

Costume design is by Ellen Alphonso, and set design is by Jeannine Grizzard and Scott Hall.

Tickets cost $15, $12 for seniors and students, and are available at Paddington Station in Ashland, Grocery Outlet in Medford and at www.ashlandcontemporarytheatre.org. Reservations can be made by calling 541-646-2971.