How to Write a New Book for the Bible (Seattle Repertory)

Posted on January 25, 2012

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(l to r) Tyler Pierce and Linda Gehringer star in the world premiere of Bill Cain’s How to Write a New Book for the Bible at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

The Seattle Repertory presents the world premiere of Bill Cain’s latest work, How to Write a New Book for the Bible – a moving and candid personal exploration of parent-adult child relationships and finding peace in the midst of suffering and death. “How to” invites you into the most familiar of places, the family home; yet does so in a fresh, deeply poignant and humorous manner. Bill describes the play as “joyous” and celebrates the fullness of humanity, its peaks and valleys, while discovering sacred moments even within the remembrances of the minutest of acts. It is a wild emotional rollercoaster ride, through the heart, drama and faith of the Cain family; honestly portrayed, complete with imperfections, quirks and an unalterable love for one another.

Unabashed, Bill Cain treks boldly into the arena of drama which is the family, draws us into the frustration, joy and absurdity which is family life and makes us care. It cannot be any easy thing to write such a deeply personal revealing play, but I was pleasantly surprised by how he masterfully integrated faith and family, in such a manner that is so accessible to all. He successfully navigates the razor’s edge between religion and entertainment, the joys and heart breaks of family life, and the reality of aging and facing death. He does so without backing away from the edge, overly sanitizing it or becoming preachy. He delightfully portrays a family of faith not as stoic automatons, whitewashed saints or joyless ascetics, but full on flesh and blood, wonderfully flawed emotional beings, who at moments are angered, frustrated and make mistakes, while laughing, crying and even cursing without losing sight that God is found in midst of their family story.

Linda Gehringer stars in the world premiere of Bill Cain’s How to Write a New Book for the Bible at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

Bill is endearingly played by Tyler Pierce who shines while striving to be the voice of reason within the craziness of adult children dealing with aging parents, without being dragged into the insanity. In the midst of refreshingly honest portrayals of family squabbles and interactions, Tyler regularly breaks the fourth wall, appealing directly to the audience for sanity; incredulous with the stubbornness and frequently contradictory interactions with his parents. If only we all had such an audience to appeal to throughout our life story.

As Bill’s mother Mary, Linda Gehringer manages to steal the show and our hearts with her lovable stubbornness, infectious personality and delightful smirkiness (don’t bother looking up that word, I just made it up). The cast is nicely rounded out by veteran actor Leo Marks, portraying Bill’s father Pete and Aaron Blakeley as the brother, Paul. Together they created a multitude of memorable scenes which continue to linger in my mind. Whether it is Bill carrying his sick father to bed or him having the familiar round and round debate with his mother or his father Pete lying in bed just wanting to linger awake to gaze upon his son a moment longer or his brother Paul beginning to confront his own emotional wounds in front of the Vietnam Memorial Wall; throughout we are reminded because we need to be, of our own humanity, the spiritual bonds of a family and the rediscovery of our own inner determination, strengthened by our faith that keeps us going despite the bumps and bruises of life. In hindsight, we begin to discern the treasures provided by those uncomfortable moments and it begins to dawn on us that they have become sacred memories.

(l to r) Aaron Blakeley, Tyler Pierce, Linda Gehringer, and Leo Marks star in the world premiere of Bill Cain’s How to Write a New Book for the Bible at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

Bill reminds us how deeply connected and vulnerable we are with members of our family. We are at our most authentic state, while dealing with family members. No one can wound us so deeply or tear us down with a negative comment or lift us up so high with a word of encouragement or praise than a member of our family. The wounds inflicted and the blessings bestowed by a family member, are marks that linger long in our life.

In the play, Bill speaks about ritualizing his family; finding the sacred moments and capturing them (writing that new book for the Bible). The irony is that often the most prized memories turn out to be ones different than we first imagine. I was reminded during the play how frequently the little quirks and idiosyncrasies of our parents or spouses or family members, the ones that perhaps irritated us most are often the sacred memories we cherish and miss the most deeply, once that person is gone from our lives.

Growing up my mother used to repeatedly tell her four children that blood is thicker than water and though our friends will come and go throughout our life, family is forever. I did not appreciate the depth of truth in that statement until I was much wizened and weathered a bit by life’s joys and pains. It’s been six years since I lost my mom to complications stemming from Multiple Sclerosis, but when I exited the theater into the icy streets of downtown Seattle, I felt like I had just spent an evening with her.

Bill tells us that all writing is prayer and while that may well be true, I have found that writing is therapeutic. I heartily encourage you to spend a therapeutic evening of laughter and perhaps a few tears with Bill and his family. It’s like going home.

How to Write a New Book for the Bible directed by Kent Nicholson runs from January 13 – February 5, 2012 at the Seattle Repertory. For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org.

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