Performing Arts: The Book Club

Playwright brings her enticing play, The Book Club, to Arena Stage.
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The Book Club Play The ensemble of The Book Club Play by Karen Zacarías at Arena Stage October 7- November 6, 2011: (l-r) as Will, Rachael Holmes as Lily, as Alex, as Ana, as Jen and Eric Messner as Rob. Photo by Scotty Beland.

All living creatures share the same four basic needs: food, water, shelter and reproduction.  Humans, however, have a fifth need–the need for stories.

So intones a character from The Book Club, which is currently showing at Arena Stage.  In this tightly written piece, playwright Karen Zacarias puts her finger on the pulse of American Culture and comes away with an accurate reading of our conscious—and subconscious—desires and needs.

The play examines the human need for stories by looking at books themselves. Zacarias knows that our choice of literature and our reaction to it can reveal important things about ourselves; and so it goes with the characters of The Book Club.  The play is a multimedia tour de force, with live scenes separated by riotous video vignettes.

Zacarias opened the original version of the play at The Round House Theater.  She later withdrew the play from production to give it a major rewrite.  After reading the revised version, director decided to produce it at Arena Stage.  Revealing the importance of constantly revisiting your own work, Smith recalls, “Revisions and rewrites went on even during rehearsals.”

Smith and Zacarias’ continuing efforts to improve are evident on stage, where the talented cast of six shines.  Kate Eastwood Norris, , Tom Story, Ashlie Atkinson, , and Fred Arsenault maintain good chemistry  and demonstrate their acting chops by doubling up as other characters in the video vignettes.

The premise of the play itself is simple. Documentary film producer “Lars Knudsen” is making a film about the American phenomenon of book clubs, and has installed a 24/7 surveillance camera in the living room of a book club’s host.  Perhaps out of self-consciousness or perhaps out of a subconscious need to perform, the club’s members reveal intimate secrets and their discussion–always rooted in literature–demonstrates the impact of stories on our lives.

The play has been well received by critics such as , host of WPFW Radio’s book show, On the Margin. Reed mused, “As anybody in a book club knows, books are conduits to open personalities and the playwright examines this very well.  It is always interesting to argue the popular versus ‘good literature’ and she explores that too. It was well directed, too.”

But you don’t have to be a critic to enjoy the play–theatergoer  gave her own review, saying, “I loved it! The quick quips and sophisticated silliness of The Book Club had me laughing all night. I didn’t want it to end. Playwright Karen Zacarias’ script is cleverly written and Molly Smith has the magic touch when it comes to choosing shows to entertain a smart and discerning audience. Everyone should see this.” But “everyone” must hurry-The Book Club only runs until November 6.

Fred Arsenault as Alex and Rachael Holmes as Lily in Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater’s production of The Book Club Play. Photo by Stan Barouh.

The Book Club Play Ashlie Atkinson as Jen, Fred Arsenault as Alex, Tom Story as Will and Rachael Holmes as Lily in Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater’s production of The Book Club Play. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Eric Messner as Rob, Fred Arsenault as Alex, Tom Story as Will, Ashlie Atkinson as Jen and Rachael Holmes as Lily in Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater’s production of The Book Club Play. Photo by Stan Barouh.

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