In Next Act Theatre’s humane new comedy, “How to Write a New Book for the Bible,” an excitable young priest learns something that sons of all faiths and no faith have been learning for millennia:
It is really hard to win an argument with your mother.
In Bill Cain’s gentle play, directed by David Cecsarini, a writer and priest named “Bill Cain” (Jack Dwyer) goes home to Syracuse to care for his widowed mother Mary (Carrie Hitchcock), who is dying of cancer.
Bill claims his mother has no imagination, but that doesn’t stop her from receiving visits from her late husband Pete (Norman Moses), as charming as a ghost can be. By phone, Bill briefs older brother Paul (Jonathan Wainwright) on the condition of Mom; she and Paul have a rocky connection.
We’re a functional family, Bill declares, explaining the Cain family rules for fighting (verbally). He’s right, but neither functionality nor Bill’s priestly vocation spares the family from ordinary disagreements and the physical suffering that comes with mortality.
While Catholics past and present will enjoy the cultural nuances here, you don’t have to be Catholic, Christian or religious to follow the action and enjoy this play.
“How to Write a New Book for the Bible” flows swiftly, with jumps backward and forward in time. Playwright Cain also allows deceased characters to talk back directly to Bill at times, sometimes challenging his version of events, a meta touch that works well.
Mary is Hitchcock’s second dying old lady of the season at Next Act (following Aoife in “Outside Mullingar”). She plays Mary straight and down to earth, a woman who loves her routines, mentally acute until her final day. Whatever the opposite of Alzheimer’s is, that’s what my mother has, Bill laments after another skirmish.
Pete is one of my favorite Norman Moses performances ever. Moses has a perfect light touch with this gentle man. As Paul, Wainwright often supports the others, but has a powerful sequence that evokes his character’s Vietnam War experience (so vets please note).
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Dwyer convinces as the young priest. I love the kindness he brings to his gestures of blessing. Like many saints and ordinary people before him, Bill gradually experiences the power of the divine in the simplest acts of caring for the sick.
Contact Jim Higgins at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jhiggy.
IF YOU GO
Next Act Theatre performs “How to Write a New Book for the Bible” through April 28 at 255 S. Water St. Visit nextact.org or call (414) 278-7780.
Read or Share this story: https://www.jsonline.com/story/entertainment/arts/2019/04/06/next-act-theatre-son-finds-grace-caring-his-dying-mother/3331392002/
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