When theater companies choose to stage a play by Lanford Wilson, they usually go for “Hot L Baltimore,” “Burn This,” “Fifth of July” or the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Talley’s Folly.” They’re all plays that attract audiences and excite actors, and they’re plays that helped define theater in the final quarter of the 20th century.
To start the 2016-17 performance season at Sarasota’s FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, Greg Leaming, the conservatory associate artistic director, chose “Book of Days,” a seldom-produced play, one of Wilson’s last. It opens Wednesday in the Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts.
Leaming, who’s directing the production, says it compares favorably with any of Wilson’s best-known plays.
“It’s phenomenal story-telling,” Leaming said. “I think the audience will be thrilled, and surprised.”
“Book of Days” takes place in Dublin, a tiny, fictional Missouri town. It chronicles the lives of 12 Dubliners during the hot summer of 1999, which would have been when Wilson was writing the play. (It premiered in 2000.) There’s a murder that provides the seed for the play’s action, but “Book of Days” is not essentially a murder mystery.
There are more utilitarian reasons for selecting the play also, Leaming said. The play has 12 characters, and the conservatory has 12 second-year students. It’s the second-year students who perform in conservatory productions. The split of men and women characters in the play aligns perfectly with the makeup of the current class, and all 12 roles are substantial. So, in their first play together, all the students get a chance to have a meaty role in a great play by one of America’s greatest playwrights.
And the audience gets to see one of Wilson’s underappreciated pieces of brilliance.
Details: Nov. 2-20. Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamimai Trail, Sarasota. 7:30 p.m.Tuesday-Thursday 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $39 standard, $23.0 military, $14.50 student. 941-351-8000, asolorep.org.