Review: “The Book Club Play” in Santa Rosa

Perhaps the most mislabeled entertainment genre is what we refer to as “reality TV”.  The belief that anything can be real in the presence of cameras is misleading at best and downright deceitful at worst.

That’s one of the themes at work in Karen Zacarias’ The Book Club Play, 6th Street Playhouse’s season opener running now on its newly christened Monroe Stage (formerly their Studio Theatre) through September 15.

Part satire, part farce, and part character study, it’s an odd show that mostly works once you let go of any concept of reality being involved.     

The show’s title sums thing up pretty neatly. A group of friends and co-workers have formed a book club. The group dynamic changes with the introduction of two variables. First, the group leader has arranged for their meetings to be filmed under the auspices of famed avant-garde Danish documentarian Lars Knudsen. On top of that, one of the members has invited a neighbor to join them, completely skipping over their intense vetting process. The group may survive one alteration to their rigid world, but can it survive two?

Maureen O’Neill and John Browning

Zacarias’ characters are pretty stock. There’s Ana (Maureen O’Neill), the control-freak leader; Rob (Marc Assad), her milquetoast husband who never reads the books and mostly comes for the food; Will (John Browning), Rob’s fastidious college roommate and Ana’s ex-boyfriend; Jen (Heather Gibeson), Ana’s flailing-at-life friend, and Lily (Brittany Sims), Ana’s sassy co-worker and the group’s newest member.   

The only character that breaks out of the stock mode is Alex (Eyan Dean), a professor of comparative literature whose life has been upended by his lack of knowledge of sparkling vampires.

Director Jessica Headington had her hands full with the overabundance of themes at play here. It seemed at time that Zacarias didn’t know what she wanted her play to be about (it’s undergone two revisions since its 2009 premiere) so she wrote about everything: friendship, marriage, self-identity, race, sexuality, infidelity, career fulfillment, group dynamics, role-playing, honesty, and truth.

The show’s most interesting moment came in a debate over whether pop culture can be considered culture at all. Why shouldn’t a terribly-written pulp novel that’s sold millions of copies be considered in the same league as Moby Dick?   

Headington and her cast have fun with it and you will laugh, but I found this show about artificiality in life a bit too artificial.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★½

‘The Book Club Play’ runs through September 15 on the Monroe Stage at the 6th Street Playhouse, 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. Thursday–Saturday, 7:30pm; Saturday–Sunday, 2pm. $18–$29. 707.523.4185.

Photos by Eric Chazankin

This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian.

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