'End Days': A revelation

There doesn't seem to be much danger of actor-director Robert McConkey getting typecast.

Among his recent roles were the witch-hunting Rev. John Hale in “The Crucible” at Tacoma Little Theatre and the flesh-eating Alferd Packer in Theatre Artists Olympia’s “Cannibal: The Musical.”

His last directing project was TAO’s “Poona the ... Dog,” an intentionally offensive and very adult fairy tale, and his next will be the TAO production of Shakespeare’s “Othello.”

Beginning next week, he can be seen on stage at the State Theater, where he’s playing a dual role in Harlequin Productions’ “End Days.”

His characters: Jesus Christ and physicist Stephen Hawking.

“I’ve gotten to play a lot of really different roles and been involved in a lot of different projects,” said McConkey of Olympia. “I’ve played a lot of really contrasting roles – but never in the same production.”

Both Jesus and Hawking are visions or hallucinations within the play, a dark yet heartwarming comedy about a family looking for safety after Sept. 11, 2001.

Jesus is seen only by Sylvia, the born-again wife of a man whose co-workers were killed in the World Trade Center, and Hawking is visible only to the couple’s daughter Rachel, a goth teen who’s been reading Hawking’s book “A Brief History of Time.”

It is Sylvia’s fervent faith that gives the play its title.

“She is obsessed with the concept of end time,” said Linda Whitney, Harlequin’s artistic director and the director of “End Days.” “She’s obsessed with Revelation. Jesus doesn’t give her any reason to think the end days are imminent, but she thinks he does.

“She thinks the world will end on Wednesday,” Whitney said.

Jesus and Hawking are treated with respect in the production, Whitney and McConkey said.

“I was in a private Christian school for 10 years,” the actor said. “I feel like I have a good handle on how to play the character in a way that is respectful and true to the script.”

As research for his roles, he read both parts of the Bible and “A Brief History of Time.”

“Whenever I’ve played any sort of character who is based in fact or legend, I go to source materials,” he said.

Both of his characters bring hope and reassurance to the mother and daughter at a difficult time, he said.

While the post-Sept. 11 setting is critical to the play, the themes being explored are broad ones, said Whitney, who’s known for her love of history.

“It’s really about being brave in the face of all that we don’t know and all that we don’t understand and all that we cannot control,” she said. “The best option is to learn as much as you can, do as much as you can to be happy and productive, do the best you can for your family to take care of each other.

“That’s what makes it such a wonderful play.”