Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Book Club Play at Arena Stage

A group of friends meet monthly to discuss books.   It could be any small club in any town in America.   Yet, the group now appearing on Arena Stage's Kogod Cradle is quite eclectic.   We have the controlling Ana, the soft-spoken spinster, Jen, the good-natured husband who never reads the books, Rob, the highly strung co-founder of the club, Will (who deeply resents how Ana controls the club), and Lily, Ana's young co-worker with a more modern perspective on life.   Throw this barely cohesive group in front of a documentary filmmaker's lens and the cracks will show.   Throw a new member, Alex into the mix without the approval of Ana and you have farce.    This is the delight that is Karen Zacarias' newly revised The Book Club Play.

This literate comedy is a great deal of fun.   Audiences will delight in the archetypes presented on the stage.  The literary references sprinkled throughout will bring knowing smiles to those who familiar with the books.   The wonderful projections of the viewpoints of other book enthusiasts from a shark bite survivor to an octogenarian librarian who is sky diving steer the proceedings close to absurdity, yet provide warm laughter to cover the passages of time within the story.   All in all, The Book Club Play is a light confection, briskly paced by the sure direction of Molly Smith.

The audience is introduced to the members of the book club at the home of Ana and Rob.  A famous filmmaker has decided to make the group the subject of a documentary.  Therefore instead of meeting monthly the group will meet every two weeks.  Instead of rotating homes, they will always meet at Ana and Rob's house.   Tensions rise as Ana tries to control everything that will be seen on screen.   Characters learn about themselves, confront their secrets and follow their dreams during the course of the experiment.   It all leads to an ending in which transforms into a play within a film within a novel, a conclusion that is a bit contrite, yet still an amusing and satisfying evening of theater.

The small ensemble is well cast.   Kate Eastwood Norris is wound tighter than a spring as the strong type A, Ana.   Eric M. Messner is loveably dim as her put-upon and put-down-upon husband, Rob.  Tom Story peels the layers from his button-down Will, learning to embrace his true nature.  Rachael Holmes sparks as the more worldly than she seems Lily and Ashlie Atkinson is delightful as the mousy Jen who bravely embarks on her life's dreams as the play progresses.    Fred Arsenault is delicious as the wrench who throws the club into chaos, Alex.   Watching him impose the truths beneath the other characters' surface is the best part of the play.

While it is clear that this play, first produced in 2008 and heavily revised under the auspices of Arena Stage's Resident Playwright's program needs a bit more revision to bring out its true potential, The Book Club Play is well worth a trip to the inviting Kogod Cradle for a lighthearted evening of theater.  The ending seems a bit pat and pretentious, but the revision is definitely in the right direction.

The Book Club Play will be performed in the Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage through November 6, 2011.  For tickets and other performance information please visit

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