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On Theater: SCR's 'New Book' rich in volume

October 22, 2012|By Tom Titus | By Tom Titus
(Photo by Ben Horak…)

As South Coast Repertory's overview notes, budding playwrights are advised, "Write what you know." Bill Cain is no neophyte — he's been at it for several decades — but he definitely writes what he knows, and then some, in "How to Write a New Book for the Bible," now on stage at SCR.

The names aren't changed to protect the innocent here. His narrator also is named Bill Cain and, like the playwright, he's a Jesuit priest. One can only assume that the rest of his onstage family — late father, terminally ill mother and war hero older brother — likewise fit the pattern accurately.

With a priest for a playwright and the word "Bible" in the play's title, one also might assume that religion plays a major role in the story. Not so. The narrator's vocation is presented only peripherally in this compelling memory play structured along the lines of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" or "The Glass Menagerie," only with ample elements of comic relief.

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The play originated in Berkeley and later was produced in Seattle before taking up residence at SCR. The director, Kent Nicholson, and three of his four cast members all were involved in the two earlier productions.

The resultant familiarity by these performers with the play's mood and with their fellow actors pays dynamic dividends in this latest incarnation. It's a rich, robust production replete with honestly expressed moments of love and frustration.

While the play's centerpiece is the young priest-narrator, its focal point is the remarkable Linda Gehringer, who has graced the SCR stage no fewer than 17 times over the years. She portrays the narrator's widowed and terminally ill mother — appearing frail and elderly, yet possessed with an age-defying energy and determination not to "go gentle into the good night," as Dylan Thomas once advised. It is, as might be expected from this actress, a superb performance.

Stepping into the playwright's persona, Tyler Pierce sets the stage skillfully, moving the other actors around like chess pieces, while chafing at his mother's supposed preference for his older sibling. Pierce delivers a strongly articulate performance calculated to leave its imprint on both head and heart.

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