Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Book of Days
FSU Asolo Conservatory
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's recent review of Assassins


The Cast
Photo by Frank Atura
One of the things that always draws me to Asolo Conservatory productions is the opportunity to experience plays in a wide variety of styles and from different periods. Lanford Wilson is a playwright I have always admired, ever since seeing his The Madness of Lady Bright at a way too early age, and no it did not scare me away from my destiny as a gay man. Since then I have enjoyed the Talley Trilogy—Talley's Folly, Fifth of July and Talley & Son (original produced as A Tale Told)—and several of his other plays. I like his mid-western sensibility, the gay themes that run through so many of the plays, and the emotional warmth of his characters. I also revel in his naturalism in presenting his stories. This play tells the story of two of the town's leading families, a murder, and a crusade to bring out the truth even when that truth may not be comfortable for many.

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 everyone—no 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.

Cast:
Ruth Hoch: Amy Helms
Len Hoch: Nolan fitzgerald Hennelly
Boyd Middleton: Andrew Bosworth
Ginger Reed: Amber Lageman
Martha Hoch: Kedren Spencer
Walt Bates: Wes Tolman
Sharon Bates: Mary Ellen Everett
James Bates: Dustin Babin
LouAnn Bates: Colleen Lafeber
Earl Hill: Anthony J. Hamilton
Reverend Bobby Groves: Aleksandr Krapivkin
Sheriff Conroy Atkins: Christopher Carlson

Directed by Greg Leaming
Scenic and Lighting Designer: Chris McVicker
Costume Designer: Becki Leigh
Sound Designer: Rew Tippin
Music Director/Arranger: Darren Server
Production Stage Manager: Devon Muko
Voice and Dialect Coach: Patricia DeLorey
Resident Hair/Wig & Make-up Designer: Michelle Hart


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