In the Book Of
Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., 781-9705, taproottheatre.org. $20–$40. 7:30 p.m. Wed.–Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri., 2 & 8 p.m. Sat. Ends April 26.
You might think In the Book Of would have a short shelf-life. Written by John Walch on commission for the 2012 Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the play is hyper-topical, grappling directly with the war in Afghanistan, Tea Party politics, and immigration. Despite this, Walch’s script manages to feel timeless, at least in the hands of this able cast, directed by Scott Nolte.
It might have something to do with the fact that Walch’s play was inspired by the Old Testament’s Book of Ruth, in which the titular character, a widowed stranger in the land of Israelites, adopts her persecutors’ God as her own. Here our stranger is an Afghan woman named Anisah (Carolyn Marie Monroe), a former translator for the U.S. military who’s brought to small-town Mississippi for protection by retired Lieutenant Naomi Watkins (Allison Strickland). Both women are war widows, and, in the play’s most moving moments, they bond over their common grief. It’s a credit to the actresses that their stage accents—Monroe’s broken English, Strickland’s Southern drawl—don’t get in the way here.
However, the rest of Broxton isn’t so welcoming. The Muslim Anisah experiences xenophobia, most vehemently from Naomi’s former sister-in-law Gail (a spirited Pam Nolte), who also happens to be running for mayor as a Tea Party–style outsider. Gail turns the family turmoil into political hay and focuses her campaign on sweeping illegals—possibly including Anisah—out of the country. Gail is just the type of sideshow barker created by populist politics and FOX News. She’s blinded by ambition and married to gimmickry (in this case her corn broom).
As the election approaches, however, the young widow Anisah finds kindness from Gail’s adult son Bo Jr. (Kevin Pitman). Suddenly family threatens to trump hot-button politics, and hard choices must be made. The play’s topicality falls away, and we’re left with a family of complicated, likable characters and a play that does them justice.