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How to Write a New Book for the Bible

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MaryBeth Wise and Ray Ficca
Bill Cain, playwright and Jesuit priest, sees the Bible less as a rulebook that believers must follow than as a series of stories describing families and how they cope with life. For that reason, the autobiographical play he wrote—now being presented at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland—is titled How to Write a New Book for the Bible.

This gentle, crystalline play recounts the last months of Cain's mother, Mary (MaryBeth Wise), while the playwright's stand-in, also named Bill (Ray Ficca), cares for her. As her health slowly collapses, Mary has to shift her personality from fiercely independent to willing to accept help from the people around her. Danny Gavigan and Mitchell Hébert also appear as Mary's other son and husband (Paul and Pete respectively), as well as in minor roles.

The playwright views his family—and himself—through a lens of kindness and forgiveness: while he does recount family fights and doesn't shy away from the more graphic side of caregiving, he refuses to place blame. As his stage alter ego he tells the audience, "I believe that all writing is prayer." His family members are a bit less accepting, however. Paul can't spend much time with his mother because he has a real job as a teacher in El Paso, and Mary blithely tells a friend: "I've got Billy to take care of me. He's got nothing better to do."

Director Ryan Rilette, who has worked with Cain in the past, maintains the light touch as Bill presents moments of his family's history: the wedding of Pete and Mary, the birth of both sons, experiences of growing up (such as a lovely vignette about young Bill selecting a Halloween pumpkin) and moving on (Paul's reminiscences of his service in Vietnam), all moving steadily toward the inevitable end.

Wise shines as a woman who is both devoted to those around her and capable of driving those same people crazy on occasion. Ficca plays Bill as well-grounded, sometimes frustrated by the demands of life, but able to maintain a calm outlook amid the growing stress.

Eric Shimelonis has created a shimmering, chiming sound design that enhances the emotions of the script. Daniel Conway's scenic design focuses less on furniture, more on sliding panels and screens, to carry the story from one setting to the next.

Round House Theatre
How to Write a New Book for the Bible
April 10th - May 5th
By Bill Cain
Mary: MaryBeth Wise
Bill: Ray Ficca
Paul: Danny Gavigan
Pete: Mitchell Hébert
Directed by Ryan Rilette
4545 East-West Highway
Bethesda, MD
Ticket Information: 240-644-1100 or

Photo: Danisha Crosby

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