John Walch’s latest play, “In the Book Of,” provides a pleasant melodrama, which seems to be aimed at gently teaching folks to tolerate one another. The tone of the play comes off as prosaic, considering that the topic is immigration, the locale is set in Mississippi during the recession and imminent danger to the main character is implied. With its light approach to an array of serious topics, the play doesn’t fully succeed at either comedy or drama, whereas the most effective social criticism usually comes out of biting satire or searing drama.
The plot features two women who’ve lost their husbands during the war in Afghanistan. One is an American Army lieutenant and the other is her Afghan translator. When Naomi is discharged, she illegally brings the translator back to the U.S. with her, because staying in the country would leave Anisah in danger. What follows is their subsequent interaction with an almost cartoonish cast of characters who represents a kitchen sink full of causes.
Director Kate Alexander keeps the production moving at a perky pace. The acting overall is quite good, and the scenic design by Tom Buderwitz is evocatively Southern, with its dueling front porches and Spanish moss-draped rafters. Sarah Corey portrays an endearing Anisah, skillfully conveying her charm and wisdom, and allowing the audience to feel empathy for the foreigner, which is essential to the success of the play. Rachel Leslie is perfect in her expression of the many transitions that Naomi Watkins, who’s suffering from PTSD as well as grief, must endure. Rita Rehn pulls off the hard-to-believe part of Gail, who, as written, seems like a caricature of Sarah Palin. Andy Prosky plays her husband, Bo Sr., who’s trying to recover from his losses the recession caused. Graham Stuart Allen plays Bo Jr., who is a proponent of conservation and whose emotional life has been stunted by the death of his brother. David Perez-Ribada, playing three different characters, adds a lively spark to each one.
IF YOU GO
“In the Book Of” runs through May 19, at Florida Studio Theatre. For more information, call 366-9000.
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