FSU/Asolo Conservatory's Book of Days

A lesser-known play by Lanford Wilson mixes murder and religion in a small town.

By Kay Kipling Photography by Frank Atura November 4, 2016

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Cast members of Book of Days.


It’s been a while since we’ve seen a play by Lanford Wilson take a local stage. Some 20 years ago, it was easy to find a production of the playwright’s Fifth of July, Burn This, The Hot l Baltimore or his Pulitzer Prize-winning Talley’s Folly. But nothing lately, until now, when the FSU/Asolo Conservatory offers one of his later and lesser-seen works, Book of Days.

It’s probably not as emotionally satisfying as some of his other plays, but it is compelling enough to watch. And, in addition to taking us back to Wilson’s familiar territory of his native small-town Missouri, the play combines something of a murder mystery with a look at the influence of fundamental Christianity on its townspeople.

Book of Days opens with the entire cast of second-year students introducing us to Dublin, Missouri, ticking off its significant facts: population, number of pharmacies and movie theaters, etc. Perhaps surprisingly for a town of its size, Dublin has a healthy community theater, which is producing, of all things, George Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan. Ruth Hoch (Amy Helms) lands the starring role, despite her initial hesitation, and with the support of her loyal husband Len (Nolan Fitzgerald Hennelly) and the guidance of an out-of-town director (Andrew Bosworth) who’s seen better days, she readies herself to play a woman warrior who confronted the Catholic Church hierarchy of her time.

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Mary Ellen Everett, Amy Helms, Nolan Fitzgerald Hennelly and Christopher Carlson.


Sure enough, Ruth starts to take on some of Joan’s characteristics, especially after intrigue at the town’s cheese plant (yes, cheese plant) leads to the murder of the plant’s wealthy owner, Walt (Wes Tolman)—it’s not giving away too much to reveal that.

But who would kill Walt? It seems doubtful it’s his loving if overly religious wife (Mary Ellen Everett), but could it be plant employee Earl (Anthony J. Hamilton), scheming for a better job under Walt’s heir, his philandering son James (Dustin Babin)? Or could it be the son himself, who with the aid of a church pastor (Aleksandr Krapivkin) is aiming at elected office? And how will Ruth’s determination to solve the crime impact her relationships with her fellow citizens, some of whom would rather let secrets stay secret?

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Aleksandr Krapivkin and Dustin Babin.


Book of Days can be uneven, with some members of the cast clearly better suited to the ages and types of their roles. Helms becomes passionate as Ruth, Krapivkin is convincing as the manipulative but perhaps sincere preacher, and Babin conveys both the surface charm and the seamier underbelly of high-school-star-gone-bad James. Others in the cast occasionally seem flat in their deliveries, or just don’t quite have a full take on their characters.

But Book of Days remains interesting throughout, and it will be likewise be interesting to see how the second-year MFA students develop their talents this season onstage. The production continues through Nov. 20 at the Cook Theatre; for tickets call 351-8000 or visit

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