BOOK OF DAYS by Lanford Wilson, directed by Lezlie Wade, with Adam Bramble, Phi Bulani, Stuart Dowling, Debra Hale, Elva Mai Hoover, Robin Schisler, Ivan Sherry and Colleen Williams. Presented by Theatremanation Equity Co-op at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (79A St George). Runs to May 12, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $20, Sunday $10. 647-439-8885. Rating: NNN
in book of days, lanford wilson offers up homespun middle-Americana in all its apple-pie russets and golds. It's only after he's hooked us that he reveals the creeping rot beneath the Thanksgiving-style neighbourliness.Set in a small Missouri town, the show links a community theatre production of Shaw's Saint Joan to social tensions and the politics at the local cheese plant, owned by Walt Bates (Adam Bramble). There, manager Len Hoch (Duane Woods) is trying to introduce far-reaching changes while his wife, Ruth (Robin Schisler), cast as Joan, develops the driven tenacity of Shaw's character when she starts investigating a mysterious death.
Lots of interconnected stories -- and lives -- here, and Wilson juggles the balls very well in a story that's both funny and upsetting, especially in the dark second act. He gives these people lots of heart, and Ruth -- a not-always-sympathetic combination of ingenuousness, intuitive smarts and self-doubts -- is a fine creation. Schisler captures much of what Ruth's about, though the actor could use more variety in her presentation.
Lezlie Wade directs with a keen eye and ear for the work's choral underpinning and overt sense of theatricality, but the performers in this large ensemble piece are only variably successful. While Wilson offers rich characterizations, some performers don't go much beneath the surface.
There's real depth, though, in Colleen Williams's no-nonsense, Woodstock-inspired college dean and Debra Hale's sultry-voiced assistant director. Other standouts are Bramble's benign but moral dictator of a factory owner, Elva Mai Hoover as his well-bred wife and Phi Bulani as their flirtatious, self-centred son, born with a silver spoon in his mouth and determined to keep it there.theatre reviews