Ben Beckley’s gripping new play imagines two men on the brink of an apocalypse.
Photo by Christopher Genovese
It has been eleven years since the King retreated underground, swore to touch no other human and started to prepare for the end of time. With only the company of his servant Dead Bill, a toilet for a throne and the occasional banana or bodega coffee, the King counts down the days until his reign can begin. But what happens when time finally runs out?
Latter Days comes straight from the creative minds of playwright Ben Beckley, director Jess Chayes and Dutch Kills Theater Company. This clever two-hander is an inventive take on the apocalyptic genre, a commentary on every religion that involves an End of Days and a reflection on our current political situation, all in one. From the comfort and strength that we find in imagining the eventual downfall of our enemies to the confusion and betrayal we experience when the rules begin to change, the appeal of the King's vision of a new world isn't hard to understand.
It takes a bit of time to get into this play, but once you accept its given circumstances, the drama between the two men is utterly gripping. From their mesmerizing, semi-archaic heightened speech to the immense trust the King and his servant have for one another, these two actors build a brand new world the size of an abandoned basement. Latter Days would never succeed without an immensely talented and committed pair of performers, and there is no doubt that Tony Torn's fragile dignity as the King and Will Dagger's utter earnestness as Dead Bill sell the piece entirely.
But what really makes this production stand out is its impeccable design. Costume designer Kate Fry's ability to create the most regal set of robes out of garbage is extraordinary, as is sound designer Asa Wember's subtle city soundscape. Carolyn Mraz's set design and Jess Adams' props together create a universe that, despite the fact that the actors tell us almost nothing about the outside world, is inescapably contemporary New York City—bodega coffee, abandoned toilets and all—adding a needed element of humor to the piece. And the King's eventual moment of divine revelation would be impossible without the assistance of Derek Wright's lighting design.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether what the King and Dead Bill believe about the coming apocalypse is true or not. Their emotional investment in this reality makes it the audience's reality as well—and that's what makes the ending so devastating. For all the energy and camaraderie these two friends find in counting down time, the terror they feel once that time runs out is written all over the stage.
Latter Days plays at Ars Nova through March 11.
This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.