Religious and scientific thinkers, both outliers and in the mainstream, have been predicting the end of the world for at least 2,500 years. Depending on your cosmology, it could be ushered in by the serpent Jörmungandr, a volcanic super-eruption, the return of Jesus or Emperor Haile Selassie I, the appearance of seven suns in the skies—or the simple, inevitable expansion of our neighborhood star into a red giant.
Some people in history had every reason to believe the end was near: The Europeans survived the Black Plague of the 14th century, and witnessed the awful unfolding of the first and second World Wars. Auteur director Ellen Hemphill focuses on four such catastrophic moments in The Narrowing, a theater/film/sculptural installation work at Durham's newest performance venue, 539 Muze (just north of the downtown loop at 539 Foster St).
In each epoch—the 1400s, the 1930s and two periods in the future (one more immediate than the other)—two people encounter what they believe is the end of their world. In what Hemphill calls "narrowing moments" in history, "large-scaletraumas ... exert tremendous pressure on those who live through them—analogous perhaps to the extraordinary pressure experienced by every newborn passing through the birth canal. It'salways a passage through peril to birth."
Ultimately, Hemphill observes, "we see that no matter when you live in history, it is the end of time. And it is the beginning of time." Your company at these ends includes actors Tom Marriott, Jane Holding and Jay O'Berski, along with film by Jim Haverkamp and music by Allison Leyton-Brown. —Byron Woods