Diane Nichols plays Sylvia, the hip homemaker turned religious crusader, in “End Days,” Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s up-to-the-minute comedy playing at the Bellview Grange. A veteran of theater, films, voice-overs and commercials, Nichols is also a writer. We met at Noble Coffee Roasting early one afternoon to talk about writing, acting and “End Days,” which I directed.
EH: You’re a writer as well as an actress?
DN: I write mostly comedies. I’ve written a lot of one-acts. Right now, I’m working on three full-length plays at the same time. I’m finishing a novel; and I write poetry all the time.
EH: How does being in theater affect your family life?
DN: We just have a theatrical family. From a very early age, my son would stand up after dinner and start making up songs on the spot. Or, for the entire dinner, we would all be speaking in Irish accents. It’s a very free environment, and the kids are always free to experiment. They always had art materials and puppets out, and we would make up games and screenplays. It’s sort of an ongoing play, so it didn’t seem separate to me.
EH: What about the separation from your family?
DN: I think it’s mutually beneficial. They’re very self-sufficient.
EH: What are your thoughts on “End Days”?
DN: I really wanted to make Sylvia a real person and not a caricature, because she’s been wounded. Her life changed dramatically overnight (with the events of 9/11), and she found something that she thought really worked for her and gave her some peace, a lifeboat to hold on to in a very unpredictable world. The conflict is that her family isn’t seeing things the same way. And she does love them so much that she feels distanced from each of them. She’s struggling. She yearns for the connection. But now, she has this higher purpose that’s tainted. If she can’t bring them to her way of thinking, then it’s diminished somehow.
EH: But Sylvia neglects her family.
DN: She has to have this focus, because if she looks to the side, she won’t feel that she has control. If she does what her new church is telling her, and she’s just focused on heaven and focused straight ahead, she’s occupied and safe. She doesn’t have to struggle and suffer anymore. At any moment, everything could be taken away. Nothing is predictable. It’s a dangerous place out there; she has to hold on as best she can, and think about how wonderful heaven will be.
EH: That thinking seems so prevalent.
DN: Well, there’s so much change going on right now. If you read into all of the weather and things that are happening, you could read into it whatever you want. You could say that it’s a sign. Some people get caught in the illusion of fear, that this is an end, but, in my opinion, it’s the breaking down of the old to make space for something new and better. There are only so many resources; and we have to learn to get along and take care of each other. I love the play, “End Days,” because it’s about love. It’s about searching, and connection, and lack of connection. The bottom line is: Love is what really matters in life. And, “Why are we here?” The play offers some possibilities to think about.
Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s production of “End Days,” by Deborah Zoe Laufer, plays at 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 22 at the Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, Ashland. For tickets, call 541-646-2971. For information, visitwww.ashlandcontemporarytheatre.org.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at email@example.com.