BOX OFFICE 610.644.3500

How to Write a New Book for the Bible

By Bill Cain

Directed by Abigail Adams

June 3-28, 2015

Steinbright Stage

Jesuit priest and award-winning playwright, Bill Cain brings personal history, humor, and heart to this moving new play about a man who must care for his funny, maddening, and dying mother. A tribute to the intimate details of our lives, Bible is "an act of grace, a benediction...and rewardingly real." (Washington Post)

Approximate run time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. This show is best enjoyed by ages 12 and up. This show contains adult language.

Special Pre-show Community Conversations

Join us for two free conversations about inter-generational caregiving inspired by the themes of this play and the limited run of Jonatha Brooke’s My Mother Has Four Noses. Producing Director Zak Berkman will facilitate these gatherings with area experts from 6:15 – 7:15pm on Saturday June 20 (cancer care), and June 27 (dementia and Alzheimer’s care). Reservations can be made online or by calling the Box Office.

Saturday, June 20 (Cancer Care)
6:15 - 7:15pm, Haas Upper Lobby | Reserve Tickets
- Rev. Diane A. Burkland, a member of the spiritual care team at Paoli Hospital
- Ira Cantor, MD, Medical Director of Steiner Medical and Therapeutic Center
- Cynthia Wagner, MSN, CRNP, ACHPN, CHPCA, System Director Palliative Care, Main Line Health System

Saturday, June 27 (Memory Loss)
6:15 - 7:15pm, Haas Upper Lobby | Reserve Tickets
- Felicia Greenfield, Associate Director of Clinical and Research Opportunities, Penn Memory Center
- Jason Karlawish, MD, Professor of Medicine, Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania
- Patricia Robbins, Author of In the Morning Light, caregiver, local resident

Scoop on Wednesdays: History, Context, and Gossip

People’s Light continues its Scoop program, now on Wednesdays! Join us for a lively discussion before Wednesday 7:30 pm performances. Resident Dramaturg Gina Pisasale will host an artist from the production and get the inside scoop about such things as the rehearsal and production process, design choices, and the world of the play. The program begins at 6:00 in The Farmhouse Bistro on June 10th, June 17th, and June 24th. Cost of $15 includes light fare. Call the Box Office at 610.644.3500.

Dinner & A Show Packages

Enjoy a prix fixe dinner and a show package for $73 (Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday matinee, Sunday evening) and $82 (Friday, Saturday evening, Sunday matinee) at The Farmhouse Bistro prior to the Wed-Sun evening performances. That's a savings of up to 15% off the single ticket price! Call 610.644.3500 or order online. View the menu here.

Mary: Alda Cortese*
Pete: Stephen Novelli*
Paul: Peter DeLaurier*
Bill: Greg Wood*
Director: Abigail Adams
Set Design: Roman Tatarowicz
Costume Designer: Jessica Ford
Lighting Designer: Dennis Parichy
Sound Designer: Daniel Kluger
Production Stage Manager: Audrey M. Brown
Dramaturg: Mary Elizabeth Scallen
Line Producer: Samantha Bellomo

* Member, Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers.




Plot Summary

Bill Cain, a professional writer with deadlines, moves from New York to Syracuse to care for his feisty, strong-willed, charismatic, and loving mother who is suffering and dying from cancer. When he follows the age-old advice to “write what you know” and writes about his own family, he discovers that sometimes those we are closest to are the biggest mysteries of all.

Although the play makes big jumps in time and place, Bill narrates the story of the final six months of Mary Cain’s life – from the pain in her back, to her diagnosis of terminal illness, to her eventual decline and death. Throughout the story, Bill explains the present with past episodes involving his brother Paul, father Pete, and mother.

Who's Who

Bill Cain – The narrator of the play, a professional writer and Jesuit priest, “the scholar” of the family.
Mary Cain – Bill’s mother, a frail but determined 82 year old who loves sports and her family, and believes there is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it and have God on your side.
Paul Cain – Bill’s older brother, “the athlete” of the family, a Vietnam Vet who remains haunted by his role in the violence and death of the war, currently a high school math teacher living in El Paso, TX.
Pete Cain – Bill’s father, dead of inoperable pancreatic cancer, now a ghost figure that advises and supports his wife Mary through her illness.

The Sons of Cain & The Lost Epistle of Paul

As part of his novel How to Write a New Book for the Bible, playwright Bill Cain explores his relationship with his family in two unique and intriguing ways.
• He chronicles major events in the family’s life in the style of the Old Testament, specifically echoing the biblical story of Cain and Abel, in a piece entitled “The Sons of Cain.”
• He also recounts his brother Paul’s experiences in Vietnam, and how he and his family reacted to those, by sharing many of his brother’s letters home. Cain titles the piece, “The Lost Epistle of Paul’, deliberately evoking the letters of the original apostle Paul.

Both pieces make for fascinating, funny, and moving reading:

A Reading from the Family Bible

Lost Letters of Paul


Bill Cain is a writer of books, plays, and television scripts. Before becoming a playwright, he had been a director for several years. He turned to playwriting after seeing a production of Nicholas Nickleby performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

How to Write a New Book for the Bible is taken from Cain’s own experiences caring for his mother as she was dying. Cain kept a diary (as he has through most of his adult life) of his experiences during this time with his mother, turned that record into a book, and then eventually into a play.

The following is Bill Cain’s bio from the Abrams Artists Agency:
Most recent: World premiere of How To Write A New Book For The Bible at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Seattle Repertory Theatre, and subsequently at South Coast Rep, all directed by Kent Nicholson. The play was developed at the Ojai Playwrights Conference, South Coast Repertory, TheaterWorks and Philadelphia Theatre Company.

Bill’s play 9 Circles was developed at the Ojai Playwrights Conference and South Coast Repertory’s Pacific Playwrights Festival. It was awarded the Sky/Cooper Prize and the world premiere production by Marin Theatre Company under the direction of Kent Nicholson. It subsequently received the Steinberg New Play Award making Bill the only author to receive the award two years in a row. It has been produced around the country including the Publick of Boston, Renegade Theater, Curious Theater and the Bootleg in Los Angeles (3 LA Drama Critic nominations).

Equivocation, developed at the Ojai Playwrights Conference and TheaterWorks in Palo Alto, was the recipient of two Edgerton grants and received its world premiere production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival directed by Bill Rauch. That production subsequently transferred to Seattle Repertory Theatre and Arena Stage. It was also produced by the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles (where it received an Ovation Award for Best Production of a Play – Large Theatre -- and Featured Actor in a Play), Marin Theatre Company in San Francisco and Manhattan Theatre Club in New York. It was the recipient of the Steinberg New Play Award.

Mr. Cain’s widely-produced play Stand-Up Tragedy earned six LA Critics Awards (including best production and distinguished writing) in its premiere at the Mark Taper Forum. Stand Up later garnered four Helen Hayes Awards (including outstanding production) at Arena Stage in Washington, DC before its 1990 Broadway engagement where it received the Joe A. Callaway Playwriting Award.

Other plays: The Laying On Of Hands was developed at the Ojai Playwrights Conference and NYU’s HotInk Series and OPEN SEASON. He is currently writing new plays on commission from Oregon Shakespeare and South Coast. He is the first ever recipient of the Terrence McNally New Play Award from Philadelphia Theatre Company, where he is developing a play called Unvarnished.

Hollywood: Bill was the co-creator/writer/producer of Nothing Sacred, a dramatic television series which premiered in the fall of 1997 on ABC and was awarded a George Foster Peabody Award for Outstanding Achievement in Television. He received a WGA Award for Episodic Drama for the pilot episode “Proofs for the Existence of God.” His adaptation of Clover for Hallmark Entertainment and HBO earned him the Christopher Award for Artistic Excellence. He wrote the critically acclaimed screen adaptation of Nightjohn for Hallmark/ Touchstone which was named best American film of the year by The New Yorker and given a special citation for excellence by the National Society of Film Critics.

He adapted his play Stand-Up Tragedy as a cable film entitled Thicker Than Blood for TNT (Writers’ Guild nomination), wrote and executive produced Everything That Rises (starring Mandy Patinkin) for Touchstone Television, as well as writing the screen adaptation of the book Papa’s Angels which starred Scott Bakula, Cynthia Nixon and Eva Marie Saint. Bill was the writer/executive producer of ABC’s Sounder, which was nominated for two NAACP Image awards, including Best Picture. He worked on the second season of House Of Cards and is developing a pilot for FX.

He is the founder of the Boston Shakespeare Company, where he was Artistic Director for seven seasons, directing most of the Shakespeare canon.

And if all this weren’t enough, Mr. Cain is also a Jesuit priest.

Interviews with the Playwright

Check out these three wonderful conversations that Seattle Repertory Theatre had with Bill Cain about How To Write A New Book For The Bible.

Seattle Rep's "Know before you go"


Syracuse, NY

Located in central New York state, Syracuse is the 5th most populous city in the U.S. In 2010, Forbes magazine ranked it 4th in Top 10 Places to Raise A Family.

Syracuse's neighborhoods reflect the historically divided population. Traditionally, Irish, Polish and Ukrainian Americans settled on its west side; Jews on its east side; German and Italian Americans on the north side; and African-Americans on its south side.

Caring for Aging Parents

A recent study by MetLife Mature Market Institute reports that “Nearly 10 million adult children are caring for aging parents [and] Other adult children are contributing to the cost of a parent's assisted-living care, which […] averages about $3,500 a month.” Metlife also found that “The percentage of adult children providing personal care and/or financial assistance to a parent has more than tripled over the past 15 years.” (2012 NPR article)

A Recent Study by Metlife Mature Market Institute*

• Nearly 10 million adult children are caring for aging parents.
• Other adult children are contributing to the cost of a parent's assisted-living care, which averages about $3,500 a month.
• The percentage of adult children providing personal care and/or financial assistance to a parent has more than tripled over the past 15 years.
*2012 NPR article

Some Compelling Statistics

• 51% of care recipients live in their own home, 29% live with their family caregiver, and 4% live in nursing homes and assisted living.
• The stress on persons caring for family members with dementia has been shown to impact the caregiver's immune system for up to three years after their caregiving ends, thus increasing their chances of developing a chronic illness themselves.*
• Nearly three quarters, 72%, of family caregivers report not going to the doctor as often as they should; 55% say they skip doctor appointments for themselves. 63% of caregivers report having poor eating habits than non-caregivers and 58% indicate worse exercise habits than before caregiving responsibilities.**
• The typical family caregiver is a 49 year old woman, married and employed, caring for her widowed 69 year old mother who does not live with her.
• Approximately 66% of family caregivers are women. More than 37% have children or grandchildren under 18 years old living with them.
*Drs. J. Kiecolt-Glaser and R. Glaser, "Chronic Stress and Age-Related Increases in the Proinflammatory Cytokine IL-6.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 30, 2003.
**Evercare Study of Caregivers in Decline: “A Close-Up Look at Health Risks of Caring for a Loved One.” National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare. 2006.


Deep Connections Among the Artists

One of the hallmarks of our production of How to Write a New Book for the Bible is that the four cast members, the director and the stage manager have all worked together over many years on multiple productions. The actors—Alda Cortese, Peter DeLaurier, Stephen Novelli and Greg Wood—share a camaraderie, a familiarity with one another’s acting styles and an innate sense of ensemble that made them ideal candidates to play the Cain family: a family whose members love one another, frustrate one another, and will do anything and everything possible to protect and nurture one another.

From Staged Reading to Full Production: COMMUNITY MATTERS Comes of Age

On March 25, 2013 People’s Light presented a staged reading of How to Write a New Book for the Bible as part of our second annual Community Matters series. As with all our free Community Matters events, the purpose of this reading was not to audition the play for future production. Instead, the reading provided an opportunity for us to partner with three local organizations (Surrey Services for Seniors, The Chester County Department of Aging Services, and CARIE: Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly) to catalyze a conversation about caretaking and aging.

We expected the humor and heart of Bill Cain’s play to resonate with the community members who attended that evening. We did not anticipate the degree of personal connection to the story and characters the audience shared during the post-reading discussion. Daughters, grandfathers, granddaughters, hospice workers, experts in Alzheimer’s, psychologists, and more, raised their hands. The conversation--challenging, cathartic, activating, and hopeful--could have lasted for many hours. That response prompted People’s Light to produce Bible as part of our 40th Anniversary season, to bring this tender, funny and powerful play to as wide an audience as possible.

“Symbiography” in How to Write a New Book for the Bible

By Resident Dramaturg Gina Pisasale
In some way, all art is autobiographical. Situated in a very specific time and place, a major part of the artist’s impulse is a personal response to the world. Playwright Bill Cain, who is also a Jesuit priest, has surmised that part of him has always been a writer. He has kept a diary continually since 1973 and explains, “It’s my way of thinking.” When he was leaving his mother’s apartment for the last time, he wrote about that moment in what was to become a book entitled How to Write a New Book for the Bible over the next ten years. In 2011, he adapted that book into a play, which premiered as a coproduction between Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Seattle Repertory Theatre. In an interview with Berkeley Rep’s Dramaturg Madeleine Oldham, Cain talks about his impulses for writing the play:

Madeleine Oldham: Why write this particular play?

Bill Cain: The play focuses on three people: my father, my mother and my brother. These are exquisite human beings, and I wanted to ritualize in some way the wonder of their lives as a way of celebrating them. I think the history of both religion and drama is the sins of the parents are visited on the children—as told by the children. And whether that’s Adam and Eve have ruined our lives or James Tyrone and Mary Tyrone [Long Day’s Journey into Night] have ruined the lives of their children. This is not my experience. My experience is the opposite of the general tradition; I have a huge sense of the blessing of my parents’ lives being passed to the next generation, and I wanted to make a ritual of that passage of life visible.

Most of drama really is pointing the finger backwards. And comedy is where we get to celebrate. There’s a drama in generosity as well. I don’t think the only drama is in the scarring or the losses. I think there’s great drama in self-sacrifice and kindness and the cost of kindness. And that’s a ritual I would like people to enter. And exit less afraid and more joyous.

MO: Is this the most autobiographical thing you’ve written?

BC: No question.

MO: Is the play pure autobiography or is it a blend of fact and fiction?

BC: “Bill” says early in the play that he’s keeping a journal and writing it all down. “Bill” is faithful to that. Some of the funnier sequences—including the biggest fight in the play—are virtual transcriptions of the events. If I were going to fictionalize, I would have taken out some of my more boneheaded, selfish behavior, but I decided to let it stay as it was.

Although the play is autobiographical, it’s not simply a straight reporting or chronological documentary of events in Cain’s life, but rather an artistic arrangement of Cain’s experiences. The artistry of Cain’s telling isn’t necessarily in his choices of what to tell, but how to tell it. Through his narrator “Bill,” Cain moves from present to past and back to present, from one location to multiple locations, and from a dramatic event to directly addressing the audience in a moment of reflection, all sometimes within the course of a single script page. Rather than leaving us bewildered, however, we find ourselves at ease as Bill’s travel companion through his story. But how?

Cain taps into a familiar rhythm that we all know from gatherings of close friends and family recollecting a story about a shared event, where someone begins a story and others chime in with a related or even tangential story of a brief moment or longer journey. Memories and events of the past emerge to color and deepen a story of the present. Together, all of these stories and anecdotes that interrupt and interweave with each other ultimately create a larger sense of what has come to define “mom,” “dad,” “family,” you, and me. By deliberately arranging actions and events in this particular non-linear and tangled way – but in a way that still feels so natural and organic to us – Cain elevates his family story to art. And as an artistic endeavor, it becomes something that seeks our attention to reveal larger truths in our world. For Cain, this is the aim of his work as a playwright and a priest:

MO: How does being a priest affect your playwriting and vice versa?

BC: I’m a Jesuit priest, and the Jesuits weren’t founded to live in a cloister or a monastery. We’re supposed to go into the world, find the presence of God there and celebrate it. I’d say that was a pretty good description of what all of us in theatre do as well. Theatre is always proclaiming “attention must be paid” to what is neglected and holy. Willy Loman. Antigone. Blanche. In this play—Mary. The jobs of writer and priest—as “Bill” says in the play—are closely related. In both, you point and say, “Look. Look there. That person you haven’t noticed—he, she matters.”

Through Cain’s art of storytelling, he invites us to attend to his family story, but only so that it can reveal and celebrate the sacred or “the presence of God” in our own world – in our own families. So autobiography becomes symbiography (with sym- meaning “with” or “together”), where the story of one can become a shared story for many.

Cain describes the Bible as “the story of a family.” And so just like his autobiographical story of his family, the Bible can be a story for and about all of us. In his unpublished book that was the source of this play, in the opening to a chapter called, On Adding a New Book to the Bible (Part 2): The Lost Epistle of Paul, Cain writes:

If the Bible feels familiar to you, it should.
It is your story.
Even if you haven’t read it, you’ve lived it…

You were born a new Adam or a new Eve and, if creation wasn’t exactly new when you arrived, it was new to you.
Like Adam and Eve, like Abraham and Sarah and all others, you beget your begats, fight your fights, say your prayers and finally go to sleep.
You take your journey.
And the world is saved or lost in you.

The Playwright’s Hope for Audiences Who See This Play

“I hope they walk away with a great sense of joy, walk away carrying less fear about how life ends. My parents both gave off light as they died, and they found a way to make their deaths a summation of the goodness they had received and given for their whole lives. The play is very funny. And I think the reason for that is my parents understood that death does not negate life, but it’s one of the things in life. I hope the play works as a celebration of all of the darkness and light and not just some of it.”
--From an interview with Bill Cain by Berkeley Repertory Theatre Dramaturg, Madeleine Oldham. For the full text of this interview, please click here.

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