Right now, there is a blackboard in the lobby of the Seattle Rep that says: “What is the most important rule of your family?” “What rituals do you have in your own life?” “What do you wish the Bible said?”
Audiences read these questions as they enter the auditorium to see How to Write a New Book for the Bible, a premiere of Bill Cain’s latest play. You may remember Cain as the author of the 2009 hit Equivocation, a fictional piece that speculates on the final years of Shakespeare’s career and the political intrigue behind the 1605 gunpowder plot. I admit that Equivocation is one of my favorite plays. New Book for the Bible is very different.
Cain’s latest work is an auto-biographical memory play that recounts his time taking care of his mother, Mary, who is dying of cancer. Other characters beside mother and son include his father, Pete, and older brother, Paul. There is a lot of love in this play; so much, in fact, that at a few points in the beginning, the sweetness becomes so thick it nearly drips. But, the play does progress into an endearing and more compelling drama as complicated family memories are revealed, the father’s death is re-enacted, and the brothers struggle to come to terms with the fact that their mother will die.
The set is spare but very thoughtful—a stained glass window hangs above the stage, and a single brown door inlaid with wood in the shape of a crucifix stands slightly stage right. These are subtle and very effective reminders of the family’s Catholic faith and Bill’s vocation. Around the glass window hangs pieces of broken glass that reflect and refract light, much as the brothers reflect on their own scraps of memories. All of the actors are confident and comfortable in their roles. Linda Gehringer gives a great interpretation of an older, dying woman struggling with pain while trying to feign health; as Bill, the narrator of the play, Tyler Pierce is especially warm and likable.
When asked what he hopes people will take away from the play, Cain said “I hope they walk away with a great sense of joy, walk away carrying less fear about how life ends.”* If you go, brace yourself. The play is good, and has many humorous moments, but it is intense. Be prepared for the reactions of those around you, the sniffles and the tears, as well as the laughter.
*From program article “Some Questions for Bill Cain” by Madeleine Oldham.
How to Write a New Book for the Bible. By Bill Cain. Directed by Kent Nicholson. Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center. January 13 – February 5, 2012. Tickets and information at www.seattlerep.org or 206-443-2222.