What do Joan of Arc, cheese and tornadoes have to do with murder in a small Midwestern town? These seemingly unrelated topics mix with greed, lust and secrecy to create the plot of The Colonial Players’ newest production, Book of Days by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson.
Set in fictional Dublin, Missouri, the two-act play tells the story of one woman’s quest to uncover the truth about a wealthy cheese factory owner’s suspicious death. The first act introduces us to 11 townies and one former Hollywood director (Jason Vaughn) before a devastating tornado. The second act follows the aftermath of both the storm and the mysterious shooting of Walt Bates (Timothy Sayles).
Ruth Hoch (Robin Schwartz) is a bookkeeper and a community theater actor cast in the lead role of a local production of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan. With the support of her husband and cheese-factory manager Len (Jeff Mocho), Ruth takes on Joan of Arc’s passion and persistence in her search for justice.
The on-stage chemistry between Schwartz and Mocho is pure magic as they lead the ensemble cast under the direction of Shirley Panek. Jean Berard shines as Martha Hoch, Len’s free-spirited mother whose hippie sensibilities put her at odds with the Christian college where she teaches. David Cooper delivers a standout performance as fire-and-brimstone preacher Reverend Bobby Groves. Paul Valleau plays Walt’s greedy, politically ambitious son. Ashley Spooner, Darice Clewell, Erica Miller, Matt Leyendecker, and Bob Singer round out the talented cast.
The acting is superb and even. At times, the cast doubles as a Greek chorus speaking directly to the audience, introducing us to the town and moving us through time. The minimalist set and dramatic use of ticking clocks remind us of both infinite and dwindling time.
Book of Days is a sophisticated whodunit with well-developed characters. Beautifully performed and well-suited for theater-in-the-round, it draws the audience into lives and relationships of the Dubliners.
However, it is not for every playgoer. The two-hour and 45-minute production (including intermission) has a slow-paced plot that requires steadfast attention. The language is raw. If you are sensitive to profanity, you may want to sit this one out and wait for the Colonial Players’ upcoming musical production of Freaky Friday (April 3).
ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm, thru March 14, The Colonial Players, Annapolis, $23 w/discounts, rsvp: