Entertainment » Theatre

Book of Days

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Apr 5, 2011
Joe Ruscio, Chuck Schwager, and James Bocock star in Book of Days
Joe Ruscio, Chuck Schwager, and James Bocock star in Book of Days  (Source:Bad Habit Productions)

Lanford Wilson's Book of Days is many things: Southern potboiler, small-town drama, family comedy, mystery. Bad Habit Productions realizes all of the play's manifold aspects in its production, which runs through April 10 at the Durrell Theatre in the Cambridge YMCA, located at 820 Massachusetts Avenue near Central Square.

Len (Joe Ruscio) and Ruth (Anna Waldron) are a young married couple living in Dublin, Missouri. Len manages a cheese factory, and his enthusiasm for the work--he tears up while describing a good provolone--makes him a surrogate son to owner Walt (Chuck Schwager), whose own progeny, the smart but shiftless James (Casey Preston), has become a philandering political candidate and a tool for local evangelical leader the Rev. Groves (David Lutheran), whose Christian ethics take second place to his worldly ambitions.

Ruth also works at the cheese factory as an accountant, but at night she pursues an acting career in the local theater. She's just landed the lead part in George Bernard Shaw's Joan of Arc, under big-time Los Angeles director Boyd (Stephen Radochia). It may be something of a surprise for a director from the big city to have chosen an assignment in a rural Missouri town, but it's something less than a shock when Boyd begins an affair with the theater's assistant, Ginger (Scarlett Redmond).

The sexual politics of the town are at full boil--they usually are. What knocks the community off balance is Walt's death during a tornado. The story told by Earl (James Bocock), an underling at the cheese factory who views Len's plans for an artisanal line of cheddar with disdain, is that Walt's shotgun discharged accidentally when a tree fell on top of him; but to Ruth, a more likely story is that Earl planned Walt's death in order to advance his own position at the factory and bump Len out. Everyone, even Len, shrugs off Ruth's theory; the local sheriff (Harry McEnerny) chalks Ruth's suspicions up to her role as the "crazy" Joan of Arc, while Walt's widow, Sharon (Liz Robbins) simply doesn't want to hear it. As for Rev. Groves, he handles Ruth's concerns the same way he does those of James' betrayed, angry wife, Louann (Kara Mason): he warns her to back off, or will see to it that the might of the law falls square on her shoulders.

The plays runs to around two and a half hours, but the material is so engrossing and so complicated that it doesn't seem drawn out. Every scene and every beat is cleanly delineated: the director, Brett Marks, and his cast know exactly what they are doing. Thanks to their skills, the audience, too, keeps track of the play's many story threads without undue effort.

The casting is superbly done: each character has been filled with just the right actor. Len is sweet, smart, and a little naive, and Joe Ruscio plays him to a T. Anna Waldron's Ruth is passionate and consumed with a need for justice; Waldron seems as perfect a fit for the role of Ruth as Ruth is to play Joan of Arc. James Bocock's Earl is a pitch-perfect backwoods creep (the overalls only add to the actor's ability to project his sense of raw menace), while Casey Preston's turn as the oily James is intelligent and nuanced. David Lutheran, meantime, brings Rev. Groves to life with frightening assurance: his portrayal convinces you that you're looking at the next Ralph Reed. And Chuck Schwager is just plain terrific, delivering a compelling, charismatic performance that makes his character believable as the community's center of gravity.

Book of Days is a nifty little compendium of how things in human society go wrong, and why. People with laudable aims but brutal methods manipulate good citizens and trample life's gentler aspects. We all become victims; we all become perpetrators or, at the least, collaborators, even those who try to resist. Is this a fact of nature, like that deadly tornado? Or are human beings simply too smart--and simultaneously too stupid--for their own good? Book of Days sets out a portrait of forces in collision, and asks us to makes our own decisions.

Book of Days continues through April 10 at the Durrell Theatre at the Cambridge YMCA, located at 820 Massachusetts Avenue, near Central Square.

Tickets cost $15 if ordered online at www.badhabitproductions.org or $20 if purchased at the door. The Thursday, April 7 performance will be a "pay what you can" fee.

Performance schedule: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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