Lanford Wilson's Book of Days
It might seem awkward to mention September 11 at the beginning of an
article about the Bowdoin theater department's production of Lanford Wilson's
play Book of Days. Still, it seems that ever since that fateful day, people
are compelled to look closer at their country, their world, and their
lives. Maybe, then, it isn't such a bad introduction after all.
"We're all in a very unsettled state," said director and theater
department head David Robinson. "But if any art-form can help us
figure out what makes us tick, what motivates people, it's the theater."
Book of Days does just that. The play chronicles a year in the
life of the fictional small town Dublin, Missouri and the attempt of cheese
factory bookkeeper Ruth Hoch to seek truths after the sudden death of
the town patriarch. More than that, Robinson says, the play is also about
"As I read the play, my mind keeps coming back to Barry Mills speech
where he spoke about 'the common good.' Book of Days is very much
about just how complicated that is. [Playwright] Wilson isn't interested
in a well-rounded diatribe--[the play] is gray on gray."
To those who are familiar with Wilson's work, this should come as little
surprise. The Pulitzer-prize winning playwright of Tailey's Folley and
Fifth of July has become renowned for drama that touches, rather than
delves into truths and leaves the audience to struggle with dreams and
failures alongside his characters.
"Wilson grew up as a country boy who knew how to milk cows,"
Robsinson explained. "When he returned to the south, he became worried
with how unquestioning people were. [Because of that], his plays focus
on something that we certainly need to be looking at: question authoirity
all the time."
Wilson's work is often compared with the famous Russian playwright Anton
Chekov for his deft mastery of language and sense of place. Fortunately,
the winner of two New York City Drama Critics awards for best play, a
Drama-Desk award, and a Drama-Logue award, is allowing his play to appear
at Bowdon's Pickard theater before its New York premier.
"With the elections last year, the idealism of the people who teach
and learn here
this play really rang true," Robinson said
about his choosing Book of Days. "Also, I wanted to direct
a show with a smaller cast, to focus on acting values. Plus it's a great
story and it's very funny."
Much like Our Town did a few decades ago, Book of Days paints
a picture of small town life and through it touches on morals, values,
and clashes that the characters deal with. And like Our Town, Book
of Days features a play within a play.
"I love any play that deals with life in the theater," Robinson
said. "Most of all though, it's entertaining and it has ideas that
are worth entertaining."
Set designer Judy Gailen agreed. "It keeps coming at you,"
she said. She said the set she designed was inspired by the sparseness
of the play and the theme of happenings taking place behind closed doors.
In contrast to the spectacular set that was made for last year's The Visit,
Gailen designed a set that would put the actors at the forefront.
Aside from that, though, Robinson and Gailen won't reveal much. After
all, it is a mystery play. "It's exciting, funny, and entertaining
and I hope everyone in Maine comes to see it," Robsinson grinned.