REVIEW BY CARY GINELL
Last October, Elite Theatre Company’s artistic director Tom Eubanks raised the curtain on a new play development and acting program called “The Pachyderm Project,” whose mission is to provide local high school and college students the opportunity to not only perform in new works, but to participate in their writing and development. The first play, At the End of the Day, produced and directed by Eubanks, made its debut last weekend on the South Stage of the Elite Theatre in Oxnard.
At the End of the Day takes three ordinary high school students and puts them in a situation where something extraordinary and tragic happens to each one of them, simultaneously. Trent Trachtenberg plays Brent, a seemingly typical high schooler who has a secret desire to be a clothing designer. Struggling in physics, he hires a tutor, Spyder (Benjamin Wilson), a science whiz, to come over to help him study, but both are surprised to find Anna (Hannah Eubanks), who lives down the block, hiding out in Brent’s garage. Anna has left home (“I’m not running away,” she tells them. “I’m just leaving.”) because she cannot stand to be around her alcoholic older sister. During the play, we discover more about each person and see how their friendship helps them deal with mutual tragedies that occur during the course of the play.
Wilson is impressive in his portrayal of Spyder, imbuing him with the tics often associated with gifted youngsters, shaking his right leg involuntarily, stuttering, avoiding eye contact, and blinking his eyes as if he were sending code. Brent is insecure about his brainy girl friend and resents his absent soldier father, who is forever risking his life on overseas assignments. Hannah Eubanks (Tom’s daughter) shows two sides to the character of Anna; frightened and terrorized by her sister, yet embodies a comforting and encouraging foil for Brent. Both Eubanks and Trachtenberg are believable and quickly establish an on-stage chemistry that instantly involves the audience.
Tom Eubanks relied on Hannah, Trent, and Benjamin to help flesh out the characters and even write some of the monologs in the script. At first, we wonder what the point is, as the first half of the show takes place during a single evening while Trent is studying for his physics exam. It isn’t until the shared tragedies occur that we begin to understand that there is a purpose for the friends to have come together. Spyder believes the tragedies are the result of synchronizität, the German word for “synchronicity,” in Jungian psychology, coincidences that are meaningfully related, supposedly the result of universal forces.
Whatever the cause, it is the simultaneous crises that bring the trio together, strengthening their friendship instead of tearing it apart through what turns out to be informal group therapy. The title, At the End of the Day, hints that the big picture of the friends’ relationship is what is important to the play, not the individual quirks and instabilities of the characters or the tragedies in their respective families. Although each functions as misfits in their respective familial perimeters, together, they have, in essence, created a new family of their own, able to survive and cope by helping each other. Well-written and directed, the show features mildly mature themes and profanity and is not recommended for children.
At the End of the Day plays at the Elite Theatre Company in Oxnard through September 10. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.