It wasn’t too long ago that Oprah made book clubs trendy and created a larger communal experience as women and men across the nation read along with her. But, it was Ana (Wendy Melkonian), so she claims, who had the idea first.
Karen Zacarías’ play at Horizon Theatre has a very uninteresting title: The Book Club Play. However, the old saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover aptly fits as this play provides nothing short of an interesting evening at the theatre.
In the play, a famous filmmaker from Denmark, Lars Knudsen, wants to film a documentary about book clubs with Ana’s club as his focus. A reality TV style camera is set up in her living room, and it films each of the meetings with the hilarity that ensues.
At first glance, the characters themselves seem to be stereotypical: the over achiever, the dutiful husband, the closeted homosexual, the free-spirited newby and the awkward girl. Much like the title, however, first impressions are deceiving. Zacarías cleverly reveals the complexity of the characters with each book’s discussion. Under the skillful direction of Jeff Adler, the performances are an amusing experience to watch unfold.
After their first few minutes on camera, Ana is a little concerned at how the group is appearing, but Rob points out that, “You said we should be ourselves.” Ana, quips back, “I meant our better selves.” Ana wants the documentary to be a success, but more importantly, she wants to appear successful, smart and admirable.
Melkonian delivers a flawless performance and her presence as Ana fills the theatre. She makes what could be an unlikeable character the focus of the audience’s sympathy with her charming portrayal and utter sense of loss when things do not go her way in the club.
It is the charm and comedic timing of Bryan Brendle’s Rob that is glue to the whole group. While he likes to say he’s only there for the food, his own beliefs become tested when he finally does read a book, and Ana’s perfectly crafted façade begins to crack.
Trying to break the mold by challenging the group to explore popular hits such as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, Alex (Dan Triandiflou) enters the group much to the dismay of Will (John Benzinger) and Ana who holds firm to her belief that “popularity is not quality.” Jilted by his fiancée, this English professor is trying to find his own passion for literature once again, and in the process is the catalyst that opens up the group to their own inner truths.
In between meetings, the audience meets a series of characters, appearing as documentary interviewees, who provide their views on books and reading. While Brendle’s Walmart Stock Manager is particularly entertaining, these asides don’t add much to Zacarías’ already clever script.
Ana and Rob’s home has been meticulously and charmingly outfitted by scenic designers Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay. Video projections designed by Jon Summers are used throughout the production to display titles of the works being discussed. Thom Jenkins’ sound design also helps to subtly transport the audience to each novel the group is about to discuss.
Delivering big laughs, The Book Club Play is a delightful look at the dynamics of group interaction. The play runs through June 23, 2013 at Horizon Theatre in Little Five Points. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show’s runtime is two hours plus a ten minute intermission.
– A. Wesley