‘Book’ shines light on town’s dark side

Dublin, Missouri, is a small town much like other small towns with its pride and its secrets.
It’s a place where churches outnumber bars, but just barely. Not far from much larger Springfield, but
just far enough.
Life rolls along, until it doesn’t. That’s where Landford Wilson’s "Book of Days" comes in.
The play, directed by Patrick Mike Konesko, about the underbelly of one Missouri town, is on stage at
Bowling Green State University’s Eva Marie Saint Theatre in the Wolf Center for the Arts. The play runs
this weekend and next.
At the center of all this is Ruth Hoch (Mariah Burks). The play opens with her center stage with each of
the other 11 characters approaching and greeting her, their reactions tip off the audience to the
personal dynamics of Dublin, and foster a sense of mystery about what’s about to transpire.
Who is this woman? Well, she’s a bookkeeper at the local cheese plant, the big employer in town. She’s
married to the plant manager Len (Adam Rawlings). She’s also an amateur actor, who much to her surprise
gets cast by visiting director Boyd Middleton (David Baker) as Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw’s
"St. Joan."
Both the character and the actor prove their mettle in the audition scene. Ruth arrives thinking this is
a musical because an entirely absurd yet believable mix up.
She’s come prepared to sing a show tune, not do a dramatic monologue. Then she pulls up Juliet’s balcony
speech from her memory bank. Burks’ feisty, yet fumbling Ruth delivers it with clarity and purpose,
infusing it with authentic humanity, occasionally interrupting herself to comment on the situation.
Burks carries this off seamlessly. From then on we’ll take her at her word.
And as the play professes, her word is increasingly at odds with what her fellow Dublin residents want to
The big man around town is plant owner Walt Bates (Matt Barr) who Len has convinced to experiment with
making artisanal cheese in addition to the bland product shipped to Kraft.
Bates is married to the uptight, upright Sharon (Janina Bradshaw), a pillar of the local church run by
the unctuous pastor Bobby Groves (Greg Grimes).
The Bateses have a son James, famous for one shining moment in state basketball history, and cruising
ever since on his charm and wealth. An aspiring politician he lacks any interest in the family cheese
business except as it enriches him. To that end he pals up with the dim-witted Earl Hill (Braeden
Tuttle) the production manager who constantly butts heads with Len.
James is also a philanderer, unfaithful to his prim, pretty wife Louann (Micala Behrens). Louann and Ruth
and local  Ginger Reed (Brianne Rae Quinn), assistant director for "St. Joan" and James’
former high school girlfriend, were all high school chums. They project a sense of high school
camaraderie and rivalry, as it has aged in the petri dish of their hometown. Len’s mother Martha
(Katelyn Gendelev), an aging hippie who teaches at the nearby Christian college, revels in her youthful
transgressions and her ability to shock. There’s the sheriff (Jabri Johnson), whose interest in doing
his job is determined by who wants him to do it.
Some of these characters are stereotypes, but the cast breathes life into them and plays them to the hilt
without slipping into parody. They interact as if they’ve known each other all their lives. Baker’s
visiting director appropriately wary, doesn’t quite fit in.
"Book of Days’ is plotted with the sureness of a high quality TV drama with occasional breaches of
the fourth wall  acknowledging that we are seeing a play.
Burks holds it all down with earthy humor and insight, and a sense that Ruth is just on the edge of being
maybe a bit unstable. When Ruth returns home from the first preview show for "St. Joan" she is
convinced that somehow if she is more forceful during the trial scene she can actually change the mind
of the fictional judges, and save her character’s life. As the plot progresses, the parallels between
the real life drama surrounding Ruth’s suspicions about a crime and St. Joan’s trials become clear, and
she’s just as determined to win over the townsfolk to her side.
One thing is certain, the audience will be rooting for Burks and her character, no matter the outcome.