STORY WRITTEN BY FRANK BURD
For Digital First Media
It’s a strange and cumbersome title for an exciting piece of theater. And it would be a shame if it turned away an audience from the story which is so powerful and so personal. “How to Write a New Book for the Bible” is about a writer who has to deal with the last chapter of his own mother’s life. And it is remarkable, because Bill Cain has written a piece that is so rich in humor, so revealing in its exploration of relationships, that although it addresses issues that we all face, it does so in a manner which avoids the clichés and provides a rather extraordinary night of entertainment.
Bill Cain (the playwright uses his own name in this memoir piece) has come home to care for his mother, who has been diagnosed with cancer. Some years earlier, he had to deal with the death of his father, but that time, his strong mother and his brother were major parts of the puzzle. Now, he is left to deal with it mostly by himself, and he goes through the retinue of doctors and therapists while his brother, who lives across the country, tries to avoid the mess.
Sound dreary? Then why was I laughing for the first 20 minutes? It is because Cain interacts with the audience as much as he does with his cantankerous mother. It is because Cain is a writer and he shares his wild thoughts with us, never sugar coating a word.
He exchanges information with his brother. They argue over who was the favorite son. They compare where in life they are at this juncture, both having struggled mightily.
He talks with his dead father, who appears in so many scenes, we forget that he is not alive. He was the parent with warmth.
But mostly, he deals with his mother Mary, who needs him, but refuses to give up her independence, her way of doing things. She’s a force to be reckoned with, even as her body slowly gives way to pain and her mind begins to imagine things.
Alda Cortese and Greg Wood play this mother and son with such spark and so much life, it is easy to forget the gravity of the situation. Stephen Novelli as the father, is so real and so kind a man, we fall in love with him. And Peter DeLaurier not only portrays the complex brother whose life was traumatized by a stint in Vietnam but, but a handful of other characters. But as the brother, he too, tries to face the reality of the moment and of a lifetime. As an ensemble, these four are nothing less than extraordinary.
But it is the exceptional writing which has us laughing out loud at one moment, and crying inside the next, that these four actors, with the sensitive but strong direction of Abigail Adams, bring to this amazing production by People’s Light.
One more thing — playwright Cain is a priest in real life. And so, there are moments when these characters are questioning everything, including the Bible and God. And so, he searches for another ending to this life on Earth — thus the title. Don’t be put off. It’s theater at its best!
IF YOU GO: People’s Light & Theatre is at 39 Conestoga Road (Route 401), Malvern. Tickets can be purchased either online at peopleslight.org or by calling the Box Office at (610) 644-3500