Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's recent review of Assassins
Book of Days brings some serious acting challenges, ensemble scenes, some really fine monologues, and several strong two or three-character scenes, perfect for a conservatory production. The biggest obstacle comes with the age range of the characters: two generations of the two central families are key figures in the drama and there is nowhere near that age variety among the students of this class. Only Kedren Spencer as Martha Hoch is able to offer a true sense of the character's maturity, and she is helped a great deal by some of Wilson's expository writing. Nolan Fitzgerald Hennelly as her son Len, and Amy Helms as his wife Ruth both capture the sensible rhythms of everyday life in small town America, even as an undercurrent of change is occurring. The Bates family is represented by Dustin Babin as son James, Colleen Lafeber as his wife LouAnn, and Amber Lageman as his mistress Ginger Reed. All are fine in roles that are reasonably age appropriate for them.
The older generation of the Bates family consists of Wes Tolman as Walt and Mary Ellen Everett as his wife Grace. Tolman simply cannot portray the gravitas and beginnings of wisdom that are central to the character. Everett is more successful because her character does not seem to possess the emotional maturity that her husband does. Aleksandr Krapivkin as Reverend Bobby Groves represents the religious underpinnings of the community that are supposed to uphold righteousness but in Lanford Wilson's world view are a complete failure. This viewpoint, a disdain for religion in general and conservative religious view in particular, is a recurring element in this author's works. Anthony J. Hamilton as Earl Hill, Christopher Carlson as Sheriff conroy Atkins, and Andrew Bosworth as Boyd Middleton complete the large cast.
Book of Days moves swiftly from location to location, and three banks of steps create multiple playing areas for the actors. A little more specificity, possibly a set piece or three, would have allowed me to catch the rhythms of the play a little quicker. Still, director Greg Leaming gets the story told swiftly and effectively. The scenic design is by Chris McVicker who designed the lighting as well. Costume designs by Becki Leigh are fairly simple but effective. Patricia DeLorey does her usual magnificent job as voice and dialect coach; I was able to understand and hear everyoneno mean feat with hearing that is not wonderful.
I treasure the chance to see any play by the fine playwright Lanford Wilson. There are several still on my bucket list to see, most notably The Rimers of Eldritch, so the chance to see Book of Days in this fine production is a distinct pleasure.
Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training presents Book of Days through November 20, 2016, at the Cook Theater in the FSU Center. 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Box Office (941) 351-8000. For more information visit www.asolorep.org.
Directed by Greg Leaming