Presented by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
By Karen Zacarias
Directed by Shana Gozansky
Dramaturgy by Caity-Shea Violette
“We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.”
Critique by Kitty Drexel
(Boston, MA) The pop culture obsessions of today are the classics of tomorrow: 50 Shades of Grey is Twilight fanfiction; the Twilight Saga is influenced by Wuthering Heights; Wuthering Heights was controversial in its day for its critical examination of religious hypocrisy, and class inequality within the gothic fiction genre. If the cultural narrative in response to a book shows us who we are as a society, then The Book Club Play at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre shows us that book snobs are insecure secret-hiders.
In The Book Club Play, anxious journalist Ana (Becca A Lewis) and her repressed husband Rob (Sean Patrick Gibbons) host a longstanding book club with their friends Will (Greg Maraio), Jen (Meredith Gosselin), and Lily (Rachel Cognata). Their calm, intellectual gatherings turn topsy turvy when Lily makes the group the focus of a Danish documentary without their consent. From then on their group dynamic is witnessed by anonymous filmmakers in Europe every two weeks via live broadcast. The club members lose control. When a stranger is invited to the book club, their tiny, perfect world implodes.
A red light beams over the characters’ heads and into the audience like the Hal 9000. Similar to the interactive TV scene from Truffaut’s 1966 Fahrenheight 451 film, the characters first freeze and then perform social interaction for the camera. By the time they forget about the light and remember to act natural, it’s already too late; they’ve said and done unacceptable things: racist, homophobic, classist things. The redlight has captured their social experiment and Europe is watching. Their anxiety is palpable.
Director Gozansky and her cast bring warm characters living conventional lives to the stage. These are average people living humdrum existences. The book club is their bi-weekly deviation from mediocrity. They are mentally unprepared to be filmed by a camera so unobtrusive that they have to consciously remember that it’s in their space. We laugh at their mishaps because we’d make the same mistakes.
Becca A Lewis brings to the character of Ana an unexpected physical comedy. Ana at first appears too uptight to be physically comedic. Lewis gives Ana unexpected mannerisms and idiosyncrasies that leap off the stage. Ana is a woman we can’t help but watch as she digs deeper into her own hole.
Brooks Reeves plays the Pundit, an amalgamation of unique characters who deliver monologues on the joys of reading. We don’t see a lot of Reeves but his work makes a lasting impression. He delivers several truths: reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures; it doesn’t matter what you read as long as you do; humans need stories like they need each other.
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre is transformed into a cosey living room for The Book Club. The false proscenium surrounds the set like a picture frame. It looks like a showroom out of the Boston Design Center.
The Book Club Play has an abrupt ending. All seems as it should be: the characters have finally aired their big, dirty secrets; the friends are attempting to make amends… And suddenly every conflict is resolved and the play ends. Whether a result of the direction or the writing, the pacing for the last 20 minutes of the play moves too quickly for the audience to accept the narrative. (Unless Zacarias is trolling us.)
Further, Zacarias leaves large plotholes for the audience to fall into. The playwright skips character atonement in favor of finishing comedy with an ensemble delivered, 4th wall-breaking, character summary epilogue. (Maybe she is trolling us!) We don’t learn what happens to the footage collected by the Danish documentarian. The play is otherwise fun and approachable.Its ending doesn’t cancel out the good writing from earlier in the play but it does make it less memorable.
The Book Club Play is fun. The contents of the play are in the title. Its stakes are low. This production will appeal to anyone seeking light entertainment. Bibliophiles will likely relate to the characters’ predicaments. Snobs will not. It is most important that readers know that there is a theatre community that sees them. Your stories are valued.
Here is the list of the books mentioned in The Book Club Play: Moby Dick, Sounder, Old Yeller, Tarzan of the Apes , The Little House, Wuthering Heights, Paradise Lost, The Age of Innocence, Love in the Time of Cholera, Black Like Me, Native Son, The Color Purple, Beloved, Devil in a Blue Dress, Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, Ulysses, Search for Love, The Da Vinci Code, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Lolita, Return of Tarzan, Charlotte’s Web, Lord of the Flies, Gone With The Wind, Jane Eyre, Don Quixote of la Mancha, War and Peace, and The Book Club by Ana Smith.