Suspend individual judgment in the blind service of an ideology, and the result is evil.
That's the underlying theme of Jesse Mu-En Shao's "The End Times," now premiering at the Skylight Theatre. Set in the Lord's Restoration, a religious sect focused on imminent apocalypse, the story follows young followers who were born into the "church," a fundamentalist institution that equates mainstream Christianity with apostasy and secularism with satanism.
The "saints" in Lord's Restoration are spookily blissed-out acolytes who bond in fanaticism. Yet when two young men begin to question their lifetime of indoctrination, the Orwellian brutality under the surface of this brotherhood becomes appallingly apparent.
"Times" marks the first co-production between Skylight Theatre Company and Playwrights' Arena, two long-established companies known for championing new works. They have backed a winner in Shao's provocative and timely play, which has been directed by Playwrights' Arena founder Jon Lawrence Rivera, whose deft and harrowing staging is further buoyed by exceptional design elements and a youthfully fervent cast.
Christian T. Chan plays Tim, a young "saint" who is badly shaken when his best friend, Evan (Matt Pascua), decamps for the outside world. Tim's faith is further eroded when the object of his adoration, Ruthann (Mariah Robinson), enters an engagement with sycophantic newcomer Seth (Alexander Pimentel). The fact that the romantic liaison was cruelly fostered by church elder Jamie (Nick Cimiluca), in defiance of Tim's feelings, comes as a shocking betrayal to Tim. Unable to reconcile his growing doubt with his ingrained beliefs, Tim verges on breakdown.
Seen only in snippets in Lily Bartenstein's superlative projection design, Joe Spano plays church leader Nelson, who cheerfully expounds on doomsday with the insufferable schadenfreude of the "saved." It's an avuncular, chilling turn.