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BWW Interviews: Wendy Melkonian Brings Humor from Page to Stage in Horizon's THE BOOK CLUB PLAY

With five Suzi Award nominations, Wendy Melkonian is one of Atlanta's most consistently entertaining performers. From fun musicals like "Godspell" and "Seussical the Musical" to emotional dramedies like "Becky's New Car" and "Two Drink Minimum," Melkonian has been seen at many of Atlanta's finest theaters.

She recently spoke with Broadway World Atlanta about her new show, "The Book Club Play," which runs from May 17th-June 23rd at the Horizon Theatre. This new comedy by Atlanta-native Karen Zacarías is directed by Horizon co-artistic director Jeff Adler. The play follows a tight-knit book club bound for pandemonium when it becomes the focus of a documentary film. Additionally, the Horizon will be hosting a series of events and book readings throughout the show's run.

BWW: "The Book Club Play" is a fairly new show, and this is the first time that it will be seen in Atlanta. How would you describe the show to audiences curious about the premise?

W.M.: It's about a group of close friends who meet every month to talk about the chosen book. As one would imagine, there are constantly tangential conversations from discussions about the book. There is also a new member, Lily, who is learning about all the things we already know about each other. Then Alex arrives, and passionately gives a whole new perspective. You get to see how each character handles these new "perspectives," and how it impacts their lives. There is great trust and love among them all, but when they become the subject of a documentary study, being constantly watched by a camera puts a spin on everything!

BWW: This is your first show with the Horizon Theatre. What has your experience been working with their staff and specifically with director Jeff Adler?

W.M.: Honestly, everyone is amazing. It seems like everyone is involved and you can tell that they are happy to be there. That kind of environment only comes from the top; Jeff and Lisa (Adler, co-artistic director) set the tone. Jeff is, first off, hilarious! He has a great sense of humor. He creates an environment that allows the actors to create and follow our instincts. It's an incredibly collaborative process, and I so appreciate that. I'm having a blast!

BWW: The concept of the show seems like it would provide a lot of humor, and the cast is known for being very funny. How has the rehearsal process been with this group?

W.M.: Well, I've worked with all three guys before and it's great to be in a show together again. I've just met the two women when rehearsals started and now things are going so well that we've just made a pact that we will be friends forever! The ensemble really has to like each other in order for it to translate on stage. And we do, like each other I mean. I'm pretty sure anyway.

BWW: For the book-loving theatre fans, what role does literature play in "The Book Club Play?" Do books play a major role in the show, or is it just a vehicle for the larger action?

W.M.: Good question; the play actually focuses on the subject matter of each book very little. It really is about how the particular book we read each week affects each character. Sometimes not at all, and sometimes it's a huge life change. Rob's character really takes to "The Age of Innocence," while Will's character has an epiphany when he reads "The DaVinci Code," et al.

BWW: Earlier this year, you were part of the cast of "Bob" at both the Aurora Theatre and New York's historic Geva Theatre, directed by Atlanta-native Sean Daniels. Were there differences between how the Atlanta and Rochester audiences reacted to the show?

W.M.: There was quite a big difference. The Aurora audience is fairly conservative and those who liked it, really liked it, and those who didn't, left at intermission. The Aurora is an amazing theater, and I commend Tony (Rodriguez) and Anne-Carol (Pence) for pushing the envelope by putting shows like "Bob" in their season. In Rochester, the theater was much more intimate, so the audience could hear and see everything much better. I will admit, Geva's audience was a bit more receptive and I think it was largely due to that. Sean is fantastic and he's created an amazing community up there that is so supportive of the theatre. I am so excited for him and glad to say, "I knew him when."

BWW: Ironically, while you were at the Geva, they were producing "The Book Club Play." Did you see their production, and if so, how do the Geva and Horizon versions differ?

W.M.: I did see it and it was fantastic! Actually, two Atlanta actors I knew were in it, John Gregorio, one of the founding members of Dad's Garage Theater, and Aaron Munoz, who was the lead in Theatrical Outfit's "Confederacy of Dunces." So it was a little like coming home week. "The Book Club Play" is one of those scripts that can totally change depending on the actors, the director, and the venue. The Geva production was on a proscenium stage, unlike Horizon's unique set up. Our production will be much more intimate because of that; which bodes well for the script. The dynamic between the actors as an ensemble takes on a different personality in every production, and makes a big difference.

BWW: Did you know that you were going to be doing the show at that point?

W.M.: I did not. I found out about the audition while I was up there and contacted Lisa right away to set up a time to read for the show when I got back.

BWW: When you play a character from an established show, do you watch or recall previous productions or films for research, or do you avoid those things so that you can construct your own unique performance?

W.M.: I must admit that seeing the Geva production was very helpful in understanding the character of Ana. If I had only read the play, I would have a very hard time liking her. But the actress that I saw was wonderful and made her very likable and sympathetic. Usually I don't like to see other versions of characters until I've come up with an image and idea of her myself. After I've established that for myself, I do like to see other incarnations for new takes on her that I may have missed. And sometimes to validate my choices. But when I read a script for the first time, you start hearing the voice of the character and see her a certain way; how she moves, what she wears, etc. Just like characters when you read a book. You're not hearing anything, but you can tell what the voice must sound like, and you go from there.

BWW: What is your favorite book? What is the last book you read?

W.M.: The book that made the biggest impact on me is "The Te of Piglet" by Benjamin Hoff. It is the follow up to "The Tao of Pooh." It explains Taoism through the characters of "Winnie the Pooh." It completely changed my way of thinking at just the right time in my life. There's a great line that the character of Will says (in "The Book Club Play") that sums it up, "It was the right book at the right time". I will admit, this book was also an inspiration for my one and only tattoo. The most recent book I read was "The Search" by Iris Johansen. It's a great vacation book.

BWW: After "The Book Club Play" is over, do you have any other projects scheduled?

W.M.: Actually, I will be singing in a cabaret show with Libby Whittemore and Lisa Paige at Actor's Express the last weekend of June. I always love and look forward to shows with this gang. They are second family. This time we are singing songs that were written for Hollywood movies that weren't musicals.

BWW: In three words, what can audiences expect from "The Book Club Play"?

Connections, humor, revelations. This is a slightly altered version of a line I say to describe the impetus to start Book Club. (The real line is "Connections, bridges, revelation.")

To get your tickets to see the Horizon Theatre's production of "The Book Club Play," call 404-584-7450 or visit their website.

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