“The Book Club Play” by Karen Zacarías, directed by Karen Fleming and produced by Fleming and Jennifer Dorsey is presently playing at Silver Spring Stage in Silver Spring, Maryland and continues until October 12, 2019.
This is a clever and witty play about what appears to be a friendly book club. The leader Ana (Lena Winter) along with longtime friend, Bill (Nicholas Bashour), organized this small group who not only share a love of reading but enjoy each other’s company for a variety of reasons. Ana’s husband, Rob (Spencer Knoll), is part of the group. He almost never reads the book, but he enjoys chatting with the others while drinking wine and sharing snacks. Lily (Jasmine Jones) is the newest member. She is an African-American from Akron, Ohio, new to the area. She works on the local paper with Ana. She agreed to join the club, because she does like reading and because she is looking for friendship. Jen (Camille Pozderac) is an attractive paralegal with a checkered past. Bill, a museum curator, seems to be gay but at first denies it.
The whole group is altered because Ana has agreed to let a Danish documentary film director place a camera in her home to record the club meetings. Of course, after a short time, the readers become inured to the camera, sometimes playing out scenes that they wish the film director never gets to see or, in any event, edits out. Into this group comes an outlier, Alex (Andrew S. Greenleaf). He appears to be a tough biker but in reality, is a comparative literature professor. (The theme, not to judge a book by its cover runs through the play.) Oddly, it is Alex who encourages the group to read books that are not just the classics but popular genre, like “The DaVinci Code” and “Harry Potter Series.”
The scenes are named for the books they are discussing, and the book name is projected on two walls in the apartment. So, the first scene is called “Moby Dick” and another “Twilight.” In between scenes, various characters from around the country come out to discuss book clubs. They are all played by the same actor (Caroline Adams). She portrays a prisoner, a librarian, and a Walmart manager to name a few. These are all very funny vignettes and glue to scenes together. Projections are used to introduce the character before Adams enters.
In the end, the play makes the point that we can live to read but we need to do more than just read to live. As the plot unfolds, the characters learn about themselves and each other. They make changes or accept that their present life choices are really their “flower of life.”
‘The Book Club Play’ will make you laugh out loud, but it will also make you want to go home and read a good book.
Winter deftly portrays the very controlling Ana. Even when she loses some control, she quickly regains it. Whether that is when she and Rob are fighting about having a baby or when she decides to write a book, Winter’s Ana has a tight grip on the reins and our attention, at least until Alex enters.
Knoll captures the not as educated Rob, the college athlete and the guy who supposedly stole Ana from Will. The scenes when Rob is the “dolt” of the group are Knoll’s funniest. When the somewhat henpecked husband admits to not reading the book he chose, “Return of Tarzan,” it becomes one of his many hilarious moments.
Bashour also gives a remarkable performance as Will. Will seems to be gay, but we know he had a relationship with Ana. His big scene, when he recognizes he is really is gay, is poignant and humorous at the same time.
Jones as Lily is a hidden treasure. She has some of the most comedic lines but plays her role wonderfully understated. For instance, Bill becomes defensive when Lily slips and says she thinks Bill is gay (before he comes out). He tells her she should know that you should not judge a book by its cover, Lily asks, perfectly timed, if he said that because she was Akron-American. Jones believably rocks the group by suggesting they read, “Twilight” the first of a series of books about teen vampires.
Pozderac portrays the mixed up, yet still confident, Jen. Jen found support in her involvement with the group when her life was turned upside down. Pozderac keeps her multidimensional. She is the fresh air in the club despite her hard knocks.
Greenleaf’s Alex is also a fine characterization. He seamlessly morphs from biker to professor. Alex is definitely the most self-assured person of the group, and Greenleaf’s performance allows us to go from distrusting him to admiring him.
Adams must have had a lot of fun playing all the zany roles from book agent to a librarian. I loved her Walmart manager who is the appointed spokesman for the store’s employee’s book clubs. However, when asked what his favorite book is, he replies, “Lolita.” He admits, “You won’t find it on our shelves.” Adams does not miss any opportunity, often keeping the audience in stitches.
Fleming’s direction is tight and crisp. It allows the comedy to flow. Even when the plot itself seems to bog down at the end, she picks up the pace so we sail through some of those more contrived parts of the final scene.
The set by Bill Dunbar reflects the upper-middle-class home of Ana and Rob. The video camera recording their meetings is fitted with a red light and even moves with the action. An interesting concept is a bookcase that wraps around the pole that has become the strange focal point of this theatre. Some of the shelves are filled with books that the audience is welcome to peruse and take home – for a small donation to SSS.
The projections under the experienced hand of Stave Denning are a big addition and help us following the path of the plot, even the detours with Adam’s characters.
Lights by Bill Strein nicely complement the action without being obtrusive.
“The Book Club Play” will make you laugh out loud, but it will also make you want to go home and read a good book.
Running Time: Two hours and 5 minutes with an Intermission.
Note: This play is not recommended for young children due to subject matter.
Note: Susan Brall has had a theatrical relationship with Silver Spring Stage. This did not affect her review.