The Book Club Play
If you think that watching a play about books for a couple of hours is a cure for insomnia, and you decided to then skip "The Book Club Play" at the Horizon Theater, you would miss a really entertaining evening.
The play starts off by discussing "Moby Dick." I inwardly shuddered, remembering discussions of that tome which were mind-numbingly boring. But "Moby Dick" is just the starting point. They also discuss more recent books like "Twilight" and "The DaVinci Code."
With each new book, there are revelations. "The Age of Innocence" causes the most macho, non-bookish character to re-think his life. "The DaVinci Code" causes one character to make a huge life decision, which I won’t reveal because I don’t want to spoil the plot.
Author Karen Zacarias has created a play that never bores, despite the clunky title.
Ana Smith is the Book Club hostess, and the play takes place in her living room. She is not "Annie" or "Ann" but with great pretentiousness, always "Ah-nah" -- a façade which finally provides the climax to the play.
The most intriguing and fresh aspect of the play is that there is a character that the audience never sees, the world famous documentary filmmaker, Lars Knudsen, who "just wants us to be us." Lars has set up a camera in the living room of Ana and wants footage of every Book Club meeting, to use in his documentary. The Book Clubbers are then afflicted with what I call "reality TV syndrome" --- that is to say, they pander to the camera, at times.
Interestingly, there is no "camera" ever seen, but the actors indicate its presence and address it so often, I kept thinking "where IS that camera"?
The most revealing and comic moments occur when the Book Clubbers forget the camera is recording. For instance, two characters who aren’t supposed to be involved, kiss. Another comic moment involves the sordid past of one of the characters and a married politician. All these tabloid-fodder moments and the frequent intoning of "Lars Knudson" as though he is a deity, keep the pacing sharp and the funny moments coming.
Ana’s co-founders of the Book Club are her husband Rob and his old college roommate, Will. Rob seldom reads the books, and says he likes Book Club because Ana always serves food. Will is a fussy bibliophile. A workaholic paralegal, Jen, and newcomer Lily, round out the original Book Club members -- Lily is a newcomer in the first meeting but has been hand-picked by Ana.
Will and Ana are most resistant to the newcomer who threatens to break up the group, Jen’s neighbor Alex. Alex is a professor of comparative literature. You might expect him to promote books like "Moby Dick," but he injects new life into the group by actually discussing "Twilight."
Alex’s speech about "Twilight" is very revealing. He points out that books like "Twilight" and "The DaVinci Code," and other very popular books shouldn’t be denigrated because of their popularity. He explains that books had grown boring and stale to him until he started reading "Twilight," a book which, ironically, indirectly caused a breakup with his girlfriend. His speech is metaphorical. His very presence shakes up Ana’s carefully-orchestrated Book Club world.
Ana’s world is beautifully depicted in the set, and the set designers Isabel Curley-Clay and Moriah Curley-Clay deserve mentioning. Using contemporary but color-coordinated furniture, pillows, and art -- and of course several bookshelves -- the set accurately depicts the world of affluent people. During the intermission, several folks around me said they wished their living rooms looked half as good as the set. The careful world of it is completely changed once Alex enters for the first time, and shortly afterwards there are pizza boxes everywhere and Ana is a very unhappy camper.
Instead of the set being a bland, boring living room, the set functions more like a jewelry box in which Ana preens and shows off. The realistic set feels very luxurious, and it anchors the other actors, too.
Each new scene in the play takes place two weeks after the last scene, so the actors need time to change clothes a bit. There are very comic little interludes that take only a couple of minutes and are very entertaining. One is a Literary Agent who discusses how hard it is to get a book published. Another one involves a Walmart Book Club.
The production also includes titles projected onto the wall of the set, which is not as disruptive as it may sound. The play is about words, and words are everywhere.
"The Book Club Play" is an ensemble piece that is fresh and entertaining, funny and at times poignant. The cast and crew have fashioned a terrific show whose appeal cannot be overstated.