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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

The Book Club Play

Also see Fred's review of The Ladies Man

Book Club
Tom Story, Anne Louise Zachry, C.J. Wilson and Keira Naughton
The Book Club Play, a delightful, fresh comedy enjoying its premiere in the Berkshires, is distinctive, sharp and exceptionally well written. Karen Zacarias's script reaches beyond the literal session-to-session of a contemporary book group. A good book pushes the reader beyond its pages and Zacarias's pivotal Ana entices theatergoers to think and reflect in greater depth as they watch her nifty play. Director Nick Olcott collaborated with the playwright when The Book Club Play opened at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, and he does so once again for the current run through July 19th at the Berkshire Theater Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Ana (Keira Naughton) is the fulcrum for this particular contingent. She is self-righteous, ultra-serious, and professes to have many answers. While she claims that the wellbeing of the club is of paramount importance to her, the audience knows better. Lanky, angular Ana is married to Rob (C.J. Wilson) who appears to be more concerned with: a) food and b) sports—rather than with books. Still, we like him and, physically, he looks as if he might be a cousin to Jeff Bridges. Will (Tom Story) is friends with Ana and Rob, and he will maintain his allegiance. Anne Louise Zachry plays Jen, a young woman who takes several of Jen's early verbal hits. Lily (Cherise Boothe) is animated and honest. Alex (Bhavesh Patel), a newcomer to book club, doesn't seem a likely fit. Spontaneous, irreverent and rough around the edges, he provides delectable counterpoint.

Zacarias writes in a number of roles for versatile, malleable actress Sarah Marshall. She embodies, for example, someone who has lost legs due to a shark attack. Other parts include: a literary agent; a Williams College fringe student; and, finally, a skydiver, Marshall, who is a quirky hoot. Those old enough to recall the early days of television's "Saturday Night Live" might very well be reminded of memorable TV sketches featuring John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner ... and so forth.

The concept of the play suggests that we are actually watching a documentary film. Occasionally, a character mentions a camera. Projected words which appear about the stage assist in this process. While the idea is credible, those sitting nearest the stage will have difficulty reading the lines. Sit further back.

The hook during the second half of the play is Ana's either real or fabricated illness. She tells all that her days are numbered. Her lovely, blonde locks evident during the opening act are no longer; instead, she covers her head with a multi-colored scarf. Ana needs to draw attention around her as she is far from subtle with manipulative technique. She has convinced herself that this book group is primarily hers. Her "friends," though, spend much of the play's final hour reading Ana's Diary—the current choice for a book.

Zacarias furnishes plenty of humor and zip. Her comedy is wry, off-beat and catchy. The production, which never lags, benefits from top caliber performance and R. Michael Miller's tiered set, featuring a long, comfy sofa front and center, is most suitable.

Olcott's actors demonstrate pinpoint timing and the performers play off one another as if they've been appearing together in the show for months. In addition, the playwright laces her script with satire. Early on, we learn that "Book Club is code for hanging out." Ultimately, however, it becomes evident that the value of human interface is significant. Book clubs bring people together as the reading material is catalytic and formative.  Who really remembers exactly what occurred and when in Moby Dick? Yet the novel continues to inspire analysis and critical discovery.

The Book Club Play continues at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts through July 19th. For ticket information, call (413) 298-5576 or visit www.berkshiretheatre.org.


Photo: Kevin Sprague  


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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