Whodunit murder-mystery play ‘Book of Days’ mesmerizes audiences


Actors Mario Peralta (left), Natalie Santiago and Jerod Hubbard, who play characters James Bates, Ruth Hoch and Rev. Bobby Groves respectively, pose for a photo at the Campus Theater on Friday, May 12. (Raphael Richardson | The Union)

The mystery of a murdered factory owner in a traditional small American town enthralled the audience attending the first production of the “Book of Days” play.

Set in the small town of Dublin, Missouri, in the summer of 1999, “Book of Days” follows the lives of several characters all leading up to the suspicious death of cheese factory owner Walt Bates, played by Tommy Arciniega, and the immediate aftermath of the magnatés murder.

The play progresses through the eyes of multiple characters but chiefly follows main character Ruth Hoch, a stage actor and bookkeeper at the cheese factory, played by Natalie Santiago.

The play uses more than just the stage itself, with actors streaming to and from the theater’s walkways or sitting in the audience during the performance. Director Matthew Singletary said he wanted the audience to feel involved.

“I like to use the whole space,” he said. “This [play], a little bit more so, but I like… to use the entire space so it feels immersive for the audience.”

The characters are unique in that they have been stylized to be self-referential and connect directly with the audience, giving speeches to playgoers about how they feel about other characters, which Singletary says is part of the play’s charm.

“We’re very much into the idea of ‘we’re doing a show,’ right? It’s very meta,” Singletary said. “These actors are actors doing a show… they acknowledge it, they break the fourth wall, [and] they talk about it.”

The play introduced many cast members to the theater world, with “Book of Days” being the first production for four of the 12 cast members. Mario Peralta, a business major who plays James Bates, tried his luck in the play’s auditions and got in.

“I was definitely nervous once I got casted,” Peralta said. “It was super fun. I love the rush. It felt similar to… the build-up to a final or a big sports game.”

Theater major Jerod Hubbard, who plays Reverend Bobby Groves, also had his first taste on the stage Friday night. He used his childhood experiences with religion to turn into a convincingly good reverend.

“Coincidentally, I did kind of grow up in churches,” Hubbard said. “I went to Catholic school. My grandmother goes to a church in Santa Monica and they’ve had many reverends come and go.”

Overall, the play is great for those looking for a murder-mystery drama with occasional bits of lighthearted, sometimes crass, humor to lighten the mood.

For fans of murder-mysteries and crime dramas, the play showcases great storytelling with occasional bits of lighthearted and sometimes crass humor to lighten the mood.

Performances are set to continue for May 19, 20 at 8 p.m. and 21 at 3 p.m. Tickets are available for purchase on the Center for the Arts website.

Editor’s Note:

  • Added feature photo on May 25, 2023.
  • Fixed grammatical error on June 8, 2023.