Book Of Days, Piven Theatre. Lanford Wilson revisits familiar territory–the Ozark Mountains–in this 1998 play, now making its local premiere at Piven under Jennifer Green’s able direction. Set in the small town of Dublin, Missouri, in the heart of “tornado alley,” Wilson’s work is essentially a morality play within a morality play. Ruth (Marcia Reinhard), bookkeeper at the local cheese factory and sometime community-theater actress, has snagged the lead in Shaw’s Saint Joan. After the suspicious death of factory owner Walt (Jake Mailey), Ruth goes on a crusade to discover the truth–and runs up against the town’s entrenched hierarchies and hypocrisies.
Green has assembled a cast of 12 strong actors, playing individual characters as well as a chorus that alerts the audience to key lines and plot points. Wilson’s script gets a bit schematic and heavy-handed, more often determined by the Joan legend than by the characters’ internal logic. But the performances are nicely realized–many of the actors strike a convincing balance between laconic, humorous self-effacement and fear of change. Reinhard’s performance is a standout, but she receives ample support from Paul Dunckel as Ruth’s compassionate husband and from Joanne Underwood as Ruth’s anguished cousin, married to Walt’s adulterous, conniving son (Scot Morton). Green and her actors never let the plot’s soapsuds drown out the characters’ rich humanity.