Book of Leaves -is indeed- a universal story about family. When challenging times come, raw intentions and dark feelings surface

The Roustabouts Theatre Co. Presents a wonderful filmed reading by Will Cooper, available online and extended until October 24

Book of Leaves by Will Cooper. A Roustabouts Theatre Co. filmed reading

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti
Over this year and a half, theatre companies across the world in order to keep going have presented different approaches to storytelling. Whether it is a filmed onstage production, a Zoom production that has direction but you still have each actor in a square, and/or a raw Zoom where there are no sets or costumes, just people in a square. In all honesty, fatigue took over pretty quick as the screen became our day-to-day practically all day between school, work, exercise, and so on.

In this case with San Diego-based The Roustabouts Theatre Company, credit is definitely due. They recently premiered a filmed reading by Will Cooper, Book of Leaves, and not only was it a breeze to watch, but it was also intriguing and very well put together. 

Leigh Akin as 'Beth' in The Book of Leaves
When I hear the word "reading" what immediately comes to mind are stools and dark shades of black or gray. Actors holding a script, head down reading and somewhat giving it intention. Do not get me wrong, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is just that the words literally have to speak and hold their own in readings, letting our imagination do the rest. With 'Leaves the reading was held in a virtual background, resembling those in Zoom. Here, it was a cabin being that the story takes place in the exurbs of New York. Walter, (Tom Stephenson) is a middle-aged widow with deteriorating health living by himself in the old family home in the middle of the woods. He is not happy and all he wants is for his family to come together. The thing that does bring him some joy is planting different types of trees. He built homes in his past life, so he feels this debt with society to bring back the trees he chopped down.

His son Prince (Justin Lang) came back from the city to live with him for a while and look out for his health. He brought his girlfriend Sylvie (Maybelle Shimizu), a very sweet and simple woman who has a great rapport with Walter. Prince's sister Beth (Leigh Akin) is also doing an appearance at the home with her husband Jack (Durwood Murray).

Walter and Sylvie's rapport does not mirror her relationship with Prince. Even though Walter is fancying her as a daughter-in-law, thinking she is 'the one' for his son, the other two are in a completely different frequency. Prince is excited about getting a breakthrough acting role and Beth has been recently furloughed, yet the siblings have similar intentions towards the family's estate. The proud pappa totally unaware of his kids' goals has already set the plans for the near future and is just hopeful with the family reunion. And, as with all family reunions, unknown feelings, weird/inappropriate behaviors, and not-so-good intentions surface.

Tom Stephenson as Walter is clear and articulate with his delivery, moderating each word with precision. Maybelle Shimizu as Sylvie is the axis for all the characters. Not an easy task. Shimizu holds the balance well in a subtle, delicate way. Leigh Akin as the tough love, secret holder Beth is firm challenging the players in this story and carrying the weight of a powerful reveal. Durwood Murray as the jock has-been Jack brings in the reactions within the plot. From comedic to flat-out gross to  feeling a bit sad for him. Not justifying his shenanigans, but understanding why. Justin Lang as the youngest son Prince does instill his essence and cluelessness at times. I consider a bit more layers within the interpretation would make his delivery better and set it apart from his other roles. The dressing of this piece was definitely Kandace Crystal as the ambitious realtor Alice. Bringing comedic tones along with zero reading habilities of the room, making her interpretation, fun to watch.

Kim Strassburger's direction is creative and explorative along with Michael Brueggemeyer's videography, which complements and rounds out the story. The characters dissolve as they deliver their lines. That for a reading, is very imaginative. With the virtual cabin in the woods background, them appearing and disappearing was a creative move.

The Book of Leaves is definitely a universal story about family. The majority can relate. When illness and death strike, emotions do their independent reveal and unexpected things happen. I definitely recommend this piece. It can be comfortably streamed at home with wine and snacks. It is just as good or even better than any streaming platforms binge-worthy series or movies.

Book of Leaves by Will Cooper. A Roustabouts Theatre Co. filmed reading

Theatre is working hard to come back to its audiences. Support this effort and support your local theatre. In this case, there is no geographic barrier so anyone can stream and enjoy!

The Book of Leaves is currently available for streaming until Sunday, October 10.

You can check out the program with bios, notes, and all here.

To purchase tickets, click here

Shameless plug: listen to me talk to awesome artists and the arts in our wonderful podcast From Another Zero. The latest episode is "Disability Thinking Twice with Valerie Salgado".

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