SARASOTA – The FSU Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training kicked off its 2016/17 season with Pulitzer Prize winner Lanford Wilson's timely classic Book of Days.
The prestigious graduate program typically opens its season with an ensemble piece, providing parts for at least the entire second year class, and Book of Days fit perfectly with 12 cast members.
The results speak very well for this year's crop of young actors. Director Greg Leaming managed a very tight production that seemed well cast to the actors' strengths.
Book of Days tells the story of a rural Missouri community rocked by a scandal that even its victims seem to prefer to ignore. Centered around the small local production of George Bernard Shaw’s St. Joan, the play draws many parallels between that works protagonist, Joan of Arc, and the woman playing her, Ruth Hoch, who feels compelled to defy the local church when she sees it as blind to an injustice.
Colleen Lafeber and Dustin Babin
Dustin Babin turns in a powerful performance as James Bates, the spoiled rich kid turned politician who is ready to come out from under his domineering father's considerable shadow in the small Midwestern town, where the family cheese factory looms large and the church even larger.
Aleksandr Krapivikin is equally engaging as Reverend Bobby Groves, leader of the town's church, while Amy Helms shines as Ruth. Andrew Bosworth, who saw some stage time last season as a first-year student, is well cast as Boyd Middleton, the big-time director who somewhat inexplicably turns up to do a show far beneath his station.
Nolan Hennelly, Anthony J. Hamilton and Amy Helms
Such works always present the challenge of casting a youth-dominated field into older parts and Wes Tolman does a fabulous job of conveying the stoic gravity required of playing James' father, Walt Bates. Mary Ellen Everett also pulls off a very believable turn as Walt's wife Sharon, and Kendren Spencer does an equally good job as Ruth's mother-in-law Martha.
Nolan Henley returns to give a solid performance as Ruth's husband Len, the passionate manager of the Bate's cheese factory, and Colleen Lafeber shows promise as James' wife LouAnn.
Book of Days gives audiences an excellent chance to see one of Wilson's best works in very capable hands, making for an extremely enjoyable night of theater. It plays through Nov. 20. Visit the Conservatory's website for ticket and schedule information.