“In the Book of” at Taproot Theatre

John Walch’s new play, seen for the first time in the Northwest, raises questions about love, friendship, family, and intolerance. Somewhat indirectly it also asks just what are we fighting for in Afghanistan. We like to think it’s for those good American values we hold dear—equality, kindness to others, freedom, but are those really our values?

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Carolyn Marie Monroe and Alison Strickland in In the Book Of at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Newly married Lieutenant Naomi Watkins (Allison Strickland) returns from Afghanistan a widow. She illegally brings with her Anisah (Carolyn Marie Monroe), the Afghani translator who would be tortured then murdered if she returned to her own home. Working for “the enemy” is not taken lightly in a war-torn country.

Naomi’s neighbor Gail who is also the mother of Naomi’s dead soldier husband, is a big-haired, southern belle who decides to run for town mayor on a platform centered on routing out illegals, those community members who degrade the town by their very presence. It doesn’t take much for Gail to capitalize on the existing prejudices of the townspeople.

As Gail’s fervor grows, so does the townspeople’s hatred of illegal Anisah, the not quite white woman who wears a hijab to cover her head. Unfortunately for Gail, the only son she has left is falling in love with Anisah.

The entire cast, under the direction of Scott Nolte, deserves praise. Each one nails his or her part, but Pam Nolte is stunning in the role of Gail. Her mannerisms, her body language, her furies create a character we both hate and have compassion for. She bosses people around and aggressively pushes her agenda, yet she, like so many others, is trapped by ignorance, prejudice, and the fear of “the others” who are bringing about unwanted changes in hometown and country.

The play carries on a bit too long. It needed a tighter ending, and there were a number of opportunities to provide it. But it is rich with thought provoking concepts. The dialog is mostly crisp, managing to incorporate some humor within this tough subject. You’ll find no subtlety here, but you’ll have much to think about when you leave the theatre.

Through April 26 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85 St., Seattle, (206 781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org).

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