Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company staging of the New York debut of Lanford Wilson's seriocomic play, Book of Days, begins Oct. 15. The production, helmed by longtime collaborator Marshall Mason, will open Nov. 3 and run through Dec. 8 at the Peter Norton Space in midtown Manhattan.
Book of Days, set in Dublin, Missouri, concerns a community-theatre actress cast in a local staging of Shaw's St. Joan. The actress becomes involved with a local mystery when the cheese factory owner dies. She and her mother-in-law — a flinty, outspoken onetime hippie who swears, chain smokes and teaches at the local Christian college — lock horns with a local preacher and the factory owner's son.
The Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea, Michigan, the tiny company founded by actor (and Wilson veteran) Jeff Daniels, commissioned Book of Days and staged the 1998 world premiere. After divided reviews in Michigan papers, the script was named Best New Play by the American Theatre Critics Association in 1999. The play was later seen at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and Connecticut's Hartford Stage but never reached New York until now.
Longtime Wilson collaborator Mason will direct the New York premiere. Scribe Wilson told Playbill On-Line, "We get along really well. It's like he directs the way I would direct if I had any talent directing. I mean, you find someone that really understands your work and why change?" (To read the full interview with the author, visit Playbill On-Line’s Brief Encounter.)
The cast of Book of Days includes Alan Campbell, Miriam Shor, Tuck Milligan, Jonathan Hogan, Matthew Rauch, Kelly McAndrew, Jim Haynie, Nancy Snyder, Hope Chernov and Boris McGiver. Actor Hogan is remembered for his performances in Wilson's Burn This on Broadway and 5th of July. Wilson wrote the female lead in Burn This for actress Snyder, whose pregnancy paved the way for Joan Allen’s Tony Award-winning performance. Wilson is the playwright of focus of the 2002-03 Signature season. Currently at the Union Square Theatre, Signature is presenting a revival of Burn This. The season also includes Talley's Folly and the New York premiere of Rain Dance.
Wilson's work began being produced in New York in 1963, at places like Caffe Cino and La MaMa. Early plays included Rimers of Eldritch and Balm in Gilead, which Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company revived to great acclaim in the early '80s. Wilson's fortunes rose with the '70s, a time which saw the success of such works as Lemon Sky, The Hot l Baltimore and the first two part of his Missouri-set "Talley Trilogy," 5th of July and Talley's Folly. The latter won the Pulitzer Prize. There was also Talley and Son.
Many of these works were presented at Circle Repertory Company, a landmark Off Broadway troupe Wilson co founded.
The last decade, however, has seen a slow falling off in Wilson's commercial and critical stock. The last play of his to reach Broadway was 1993's Redwood Curtain, which quickly closed to great financial loss and by some accounts helped speed the subsequent demise of Circle Rep.
For Signature Theatre information, visit www.signaturetheatre.org.
The current limited run Signature staging of Wilson's Burn This features Ed Norton and Catherine Keener, Dallas Roberts and Ty Burrell, at the Union Square Theatre. Performances began Aug. 27 and continue to Nov. 3.
— By Kenneth Jones
and Ernio Hernandez