By James Foritano
CAMBRIDGE — The Bad Habit Theater Company is up to its old habits, this time acting out Lanford Wilson’s scathing indictment, loving celebration of rural, small-town America in his comic and disturbing Book of Days.
Their usual venue, the Durrell Theater of the Cambridge YMCA, is appropriately “down home” for this third in a cycle of three plays Bad Habit has produced to illustrate: “the trials of being good and the temptations of being bad.”
Every locale has its unique temptations and trials, not least, small towns. Here in the fictional town of Dublin, Missouri, population 4,780, give or take, “badness” is coated, and not always superficially, with a sweet layer of neighborliness. Nearly everyone knows everyone else, more or less, and loves his or her neighbor, according to the tenets of Protestant Christianity, more or less. Trouble is, self-love, especially if its caboose is hooked to the ambitions of like-minded neighbors, can arrive, seemingly out of nowhere with the force of one of those scheduled trains which barrel across the vast interior of our continent, daily, hourly.
Though, in the post-play reception, Chuck Schwager freely admits that he doesn’t eat cheese, on stage, as the owner of Dublin’s biggest and only cheese factory, he is besotted with its buttery attractions – especially Provolone. As Chuck’s character, “Walt”, monologues on the virtue’s of the authentic Provolone he tasted in Florence, Italy, every member of the audience follows his or her nose and taste buds towards that good life.
Trouble is, other characters in this placid, even idyllic, small patch of America taste other pleasures just as powerfully. Walt’s son James, played by Casey Preston, hooks his caboose to the engine of political power. Aggressive, and, to some, charismatic, he lacks only financial backing to pursue his ambitions — ambitions fueled all the more by arriving late in a feckless youth.
Fatefully, these ambitions are shared by Dublin’s minister, the Rev. Bobby Groves — not for himself, of course, but for the one true religion. As played by the aptly named David Lutheran, Reverend Groves is both manipulating and manipulated, a powerful seducer just as powerfully seduced by his own vision. Other denizens of Dublin discover ambitions, which, though they might seem modest, even self-effacing, will not be denied.
If this cauldron of small town passions isn’t roiling enough for you, in rides, sword in hand, “St. Joan of Arc”. Ruth, as played by Anna Waldron, is so consumed with her role in George Bernard Shaw’s classic, that she turns her heightened moral sensibilities from the stage of Dublin’s amateur theater to the stage of her world. This former housewife and accountant (for the cheese factory) turn preternatural energies towards an accounting of her neighbors’ smaller and larger hypocrisies — including murder!
Deftly crafted of character and place and universals, solidly acted enough to make you believe in a plot you can hardly explain by daylight, Book of Days renders life just as baffling as it always was, but much more dramatic!
(Bad Habit Productions presents Lansford Wilson’s “Book of Days” March 31 through April 10 at the Durrell Theater at the Cambridge YMCA, 820 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Mass. Call (857) 342-2518.)