Tyler Pierce is Bill and Linda Gehringer is his mother, Mary, in the world premiere of Bill Cain’s How to Write a New Book for the Bible at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com. Below: Playwright Bill Cain. Photo by Jenny Graham
Bill Cain’s last two Bay Area outings, Equivocation and 9 Circles, both at Marin Theatre Company, were absolutely fantastic. So there’s reason to be excited about the world premiere of his latest play, How to Write a New Book for the Bible at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. With great compassion, intelligence and humor, Cain writes about his parents and his older brother in a play that flips back and forth in time as Cain cares for his dying mother.
I talked to Cain about the play for an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the story here.
As usual, there wasn’t enough space in the story to include all of Cain’s interview, so I’d like to include a few more morsels here.
It’s somewhat ironic that for a play about “writing a new book” that when Cain set out to chronicle his family, he didn’t write a play first. He wrote a book. “The language I speak is the language of stage and ritual,” Cain says. “So why did I write a book? I don’t know exactly, but all of it comes out of my desire to celebrate my family. I shared parts of the book with my brother, and he was very responsive to it. ‘Yes, that’s who we were,’ he said. The book didn’t make either of us nervous in the way the play does. The enacting of a ritual is a frightening thing. It’s where taboos are broken. The lights go out in the theater, the lights come up on the stage. You enter a private space. With a book, you read it in your own space and time. It’s difficult to take a private thing into a public arena.”
In writing about his parents’ marriage, Cain thought about the kind of marriages we’re used to seeing on stage – George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Willy and Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman – and the high drama involved. His parents didn’t display that kind of drama. “But there’s drama as well in the effort of people to love one another,” Cain says, “to put themselves aside to make space for the other. This play is the story of a man and a woman, both of whom are making each other’s fullness of life possible by creating space for the other. You don’t see that too often on stage. It’s a hard thing to dramatize and usually relegated to comedy, but there is drama to it, but maybe not in the way we’ve defined drama, with a protagonist and an antagonist. In the definition of a good marriage, there is no enemy. You don’t make the other the enemy, but that doesn’t mean there’s not struggle. It’s not George and Martha but rather Ralph and Alice. You treat that struggle with honest respect. Two people accept the foolishness of each other and stand by the other. That requires huge sacrifice, huge discipline.”
New Book is directed by Kent Nicholson, with whom Cain worked at Marin Theatre Company on 9 Circles. “I love working with Kent because he has a way of opening the room to the best idea, to the best impulse,” Cain says. “So everyone is involved fully, creating clarity. He puts it all together, but everyone’s questions help shape the outcome.”
With the new play, Cain says he hopes to create images and stories closer to people’s actual experiences rather than the ones we’re constantly handed. “It’s hard to see what our actual experience is,” Cain says. “Like right now, if you’re watching or reading the news, the only thing that seems to matter is the economy and we should be very afraid. But as a writer and as a Jesuit, I have to say, hey, wait a minute. Where was I touched by the infinite today? What actually was my experience? That’s where great works of art come from. My favorite work of art, my favorite book is Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne Frank lived in a world that told her what she was supposed to be, but she insisted on her own experience. She found huge darkness, and under it found a more luminous reality. That is available to all of us. What’s unique to you is what the world needs.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bill Cain’s How to Write a New Book for the Bible continues through Nov. 20 on Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $14.50 to $73. Call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.