Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Book of Hours"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


"THE BOOK OF HOURS"

by Laura Harrington
directed by Nora Hussey

Sophie … Kelly Galvin
Albert … Ed Peed
Lucie … Melina McGrew
Isabelle … Charlotte Peed
Septimus … Derek Stone Nelson
Vera … Alicia Kahn

Playwrights, take note: if you put all of your eggs into Act Two’s basket then you had better make the hens in Act One damned interesting, a lesson overlooked by Laura Harrington to the detriment of THE BOOK OF HOURS, now premiering at Wellesley Summer Theatre. Ms. Harrington bases her play on a moment in Belgium’s history: two priests, Septimus and Albert, a novice, Lucie, Lucie’s mother and sister, and Vera, a British journalist, do their best to remain alive and to preserve the town’s library of rare books when Germany invades their country at the start of WWI; Ms. Harrington handles her subject matter with the sincerity of a schoolgirl taking a stand on current events and she gently flaws her holy trio with Septimus chafing in his feelings towards Vera, Albert devoted to his drink as well as to his books and Lucie making sheep’s eyes at Septimus, but they and the others are mouthpieces rather than characters and Act One is diffused and wandering, further hindered by Nora Hussey’s slack direction, but when Ms. Harrington turns the thumbscrews in Act Two and the ensemble start to dwindle, the results are suddenly gripping --- belated after so much lethargy, but gripping.

Derek Stone Nelson, Ed Peed and Melina McGrew are convincing in their characters’ celibacy, neutral but not neutered; Mr. Nelson’s barely-audible benediction over a condemned prisoner is right on the mark for authenticity. Thrice now have I seen Mr. Peed give his vocal chords and facial muscles a workout; here, his tour-de-force --- a quivering, spotlit interrogation --- would have been more suspenseful had he been directed to keep a poker face, instead, with the cracks just beginning to show. Charlotte Pied has little to do but be tremulous as the universal Mother-figure and Alicia Kahn starts out shrilly as Vera but softens up in time for her final scenes. Kelly Galvin, with a handsome, clean-scrubbed mask, is far too hard as Sophie, the eyes-of-a-child narrator, so implacable amidst all the loss and destruction that when she closed the evening in a reprise of her prologue, I half-expected her to pause, then add, “…and that is how I spent my summer vacation”. Should she and Ms. Harrington continue to work from the soapbox, well, these are definitely the times for them.

"The Book of Hours" (7-22 January)
WELLESLEY SUMMER THEATRE
Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre in Alumnae Hall, Wellesley College, WELLESLEY, MA
1 (781) 283-2000

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