Theatre Review Los Alamitos/Seal Beach-Patch
How to Write a New Book for the Bible … Strikingly Touching, Challenging Wise, Plentifully Funny
By: Joseph Sirota
Oddly Enough ... and much appreciated, I found myself teary-eyed through the last 15-20 minutes of South Coast Rep’s fine current production of How to Write a New Book for the Bible. What made it odd, was that despite well-earned sad emotions over the "loss" of several worthy people I never knew just hours ago, (and wouldn't meet again)... I was even more vividly touched by all the wonderful laughs, smiles and delightful "funny faces" I had enjoyed in these 2-hours of fine, intimate theater at its heights. Playwright Bill Cain, had spun a deeply moving tale of a small, unheralded family of four (himself, his older brother and his deceased, but clearly not forgotten mother and father). Hard times, meager times, plain times were made O.K. "important" times, not by world-shaking achievements, but by private family ties, often follies, but still surviving life/death's potholes. Mom's HERO was "The Little Engine That Could/ her FEAR--recalled as "Foolish".
I didn't read his bio/interview before seeing the play, in order to see the play "stand on its own". But I found Playwright Cain truly is a Jesuit priest, as is his key character(& narrator) Bill in the play. Though he truly tries admirably to apply the calming, consoling approach of a priest, to help lessen fear, pain and giving up, he humbly does show his youngest character as being emotionally demanding and less than adept at some daily things, like sports or common interests. Cain has a terrific way of delighting us with understanding of the special individualities(both foibles and charms) of each family member & the "unit". Bill's narration unfolds the specialness of each of us, family, larger group... our hopes, dreams, ethics & fears in life & death. What a triple treasure of deep insights, uplifting feelings & plentiful laughs.
The acting and direction of this play is "as good as it gets". Director Kent Nicholson takes a powerful/entertaining play and wisely brings it to the stage without dropping an iota of its psychological, emotional insights or its considerable fun. The splendid cast to work with is not a goldmine -- it's a "platinum" mine... superb, all around. Actor, Tyler Pierce is a shining narrator/young brother/priest who really wins us over to like & care, both about his character and of his beloved imperfect, but "Rare Functional Family" Atta Boy! As the older brother, (plus side roles) Aaron Blakely brings just the right level of understatement to capture the way a first-born must be dependable and responsible, even when his own life is going through trying times. Aaron's being there for the family, while trying to keep his own ship a float hits the mark. Jeff Biehl also captures just right feeling and style of the deceased Father of the family. Not the richest dad, never a perfect, Dad, Jeff, with each step onstage convinces us, he's a decent dad, worth looking up to and remembering with love. As for one of my SCR real favorites, it's not fair to say that Linda Gehringer is surely among the best-est actresses in Orange County, or So. California (surely many greats exist... and all roles call for different gifts). But let me paraphrase a South Korean Financial Genius I worked with decades ago -- "HE HUMBLY SAID-- "I NOT GENIUS, Joseph, it's just, maybe nobody smarter". So let me say, if Linda Gehringer is not the sure #1 best of All actresses in LA/OC land, I'll just say that "I haven't seen anyone whose range & presence is consistently Any Better!"
As for production backstage values, SCR is a champion of making us fly out of our seats into the "magic" of the show. This is no exception. The sets are calmed down to convey the everyday family abode(& doctors' offices). It works admirably, with trickles of otherworld energies as life-&-death are faced. Every piece of the play's theatrical puzzle comes together adeptly & wisely except for one sinkhole in the journey --THE PLAY'S TITLE. In terse summary: Love the play; Adore the Production; am still Applauding the Splendid Cast and Direction. But the title is long, hazy, derailing, confusing & even disrespectful. If the excellent playwright would just "BACKSPACE!" out the Title, it would help this play's magnificent journey (& perhaps double future audience attendance, too - which this touching/fun solid play merits).
---A deeply moving/fun theatre experience: How to Write a New Book for the Bible: SCR’s Segerstrom Stage. 655 Town Center Dr, Costa Mesa. Sun-Tue-Weds @ 7:30PM; Thur-Fri-Sat-Sun @ 8:PM; Sat & Sun Matinees, 2:30PM. Closes Nov 18. Tkts: $20-$70 Tel: (714) 708-5555 or www.scr.org