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In Brief: "'Til the Rapture Comes"

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Edward Napier's 'Til the Rapture Comes -- whose very title is subliterate, as the correct term is till without punctuation or, at worst, an apostrophe, not a single quotation mark -- is a kind of West Virginia Long Day's Journey Into Night, with drug-addicted mother, long-suffering family, two sons of whom the younger is the authorial alter ego, and a comic maid, though there, alas, the resemblance ends: The writing is strictly for TV.

Wilbur is a lawyer in Kenova, West Virginia, Napier's hometown, often off traveling on business, and suspected by his wife, Althea Dale, and others of carrying on with his secretary. Althea, a Korean War Army nurse, started taking drugs to alleviate the horrors of war, with the result of transplanting a state of war to her home. Though both her elder son, Willy, about to start college, and 11-year-old Ian love their mother, round-the-clock policing exhausts them. Willy seeks respite in going out on the slightest pretext, while Ian turns religious fanatic, rushing to any and every church.

The well-off family has a surrogate mother in Petunia, a faithful (with only one minor lapse) retainer, dependably and humorously levelheaded. In a thick southern accent, she delivers savory regionalisms such as "He's as queer as Job's rooster," though not often enough to mitigate the rest of the dialogue.

Pamela Berlin, who directed persuasively, can be faulted only for not having made the author trim some of his repetitiousness. With the exception of Richard Poe, horribly actorish as Wilbur, the cast struggles gamely enough. Pamela Payton-Wright is a generally believable Althea, and Cynthia Darlow's maid is almost too flavorous. Little Jase Blankfort, though not at all southern, is a winning Ian, but the stunner is the Willy of Zack Shaffer, as auspicious a debut as I can readily recall. To a theater not exactly overflowing with young actors of star potential, Shaffer -- with his finely nuanced rendition of a part encompassing all extremes -- promises a stellar addition.


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