BWW Review: THE BOOK OF DAYS at The Colonial Players is a Creative Take on Small Town America
The Colonial Player’s production of Lanford Wilson's play BOOK OF DAYS, is a creative take on one of the playwright's lesser known works. The piece, which tells the story of the townsfolk in Dublin, Missouri, is billed as a murder mystery, though I think it's less about the mystery of who, and more about how it came to this. Events in the work unfurl unusually, with characters informing the audience of each passing day. It's quite a different way to tell a story and allows the audience to see just how easily and quickly action escalates.Before focusing on the stellar work of the diverse cast, the incredible work of the creative team (Set by Edd Miller, Costumes by Amy Atha-Nicholls) and director (Shirley Panek) must be recognized. The play itself is straightforward, with not a lot of action, however the way it is staged elevates the piece. Colonial Players is a theatre in the round, and the director fully uses this to her advantage. Actors appear at crucial moments all around the space, with only single spotlights (Lighting by Eric Lund) to mark their arrivals. This enhances the drama and mystery, as the audience wonders who will show up next and from where will they appear. The actors also double as stagehands, often changing the set - sparsely designed with a few benches and crates - as each scene changes. A crucial moment in the play involves a tornado blowing through town. A sudden blackout and a rushing wind sound (Sound by Richard Atha-Nicholls) throughout the theatre, the tornado became as ominous as the mystery itself which was just beginning to show itself. And I'm not sure I imagined it thanks to the air conditioning and the rushing wind sound, or if this was the case, but I felt air blowing as the "tornado" swept through the theatre. Working in a fairly bare space, the creativity of these choices added a great deal to the story, and I enjoyed waiting to see what creative flourishes I'd see next.Of course these moments would be nothing without the cast of characters in this small town. And the diversity and talent of the actors playing the townsfolk is on full display. While BOOK OF DAYS is mostly an ensemble piece, the main characters Robin Schwartz and Jeff Mocho as Ruth and Len, could be seen as the leads in the cast. They are the calming presence the action revolves around and are perfectly suited to fit that role. Schwartz particularly is fantastic detailing her character's journey from nervous energy to quiet determination. Also wonderful is Jean Berard as Len's sardonic mother bringing warmth and humor to the dark tale. Honestly though, because the work of the ensemble is so strong, I'd like to call out each actor. Each actor had at least one standout moment in the production. They all seem to relate to each other on a personal level, which made it easy to see them as friends and neighbors (or enemies as the case may be) residing in small-town Missouri.
I have only one, utterly minor complaint in that the production runs a bit longer than the 2.5 hours it's billed. But when a production is this good, it's hardly worth mentioning. Book of Days is sure to entertain you with the unusual way the story unfolds, while making you ponder the choices each character makes. Between their attention to detail and the work of this incredible cast, in my opinion Colonial Players seems to have a hit on their hands.
BOOK OF DAYS plays weekends at The Colonial Players (108 East Street | Annapolis MD, 21401) through March 14, 2020. Tickets can be purchased at thecolonialplayers.org.