Steep Theatre Company gives Lanford Wilson’s dark parable of small-town corruption a spare treatment. Scene changes are marked by moving the pair of benches that make up the scene design. Cast members not onstage hover along the back wall, occasionally commenting on the progress of the action. The gambit pays off beautifully; this is an engrossing and skillfully handled production of a smart and timely, if imperfect, play. Wilson’s story centers on the small Missouri town of Duluth, under threat by the forces of modernity. These forces are variously embodied by the Hollywood director in town to lead a production of Shaw’s “St. Joan,” and more ominously by the right-wing reaction headed by the local evangelical pastor and his weak-willed congregant James Bates, heir to the town’s leading family and potential candidate for the state assembly. While the murder mystery at the heart of “Book of Days” yields a conclusion both predictable and fairly implausible, along the way Wilson gives his many characters ample chances to display their idiosyncrasies, making Duluth a richly inhabited world. Steep has made the most of Wilson’s material; the nuanced ensemble acting carries “Book of Days” along even when Wilson’s attempts at high lyricism somewhat miss the mark. (John Beer)
“Book of Days” plays at Steep Theatre, 3902 North Sheridan, (312)458.0722, through July 23.