BWW Reviews: BOOK CLUB PLAY Brings Intellect, Laughs to Horizon

By: May. 20, 2013
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After seeing the Horizon Theatre's new play on its sold-out opening night, I wouldn't have been surprised if it had opened with, "This is the story of six friends picked to read a book and have their discussions taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real... 'The Book Club Play'."

This new comedy by Atlanta-native Karen Zacarías, which runs through June 23rd, hysterically explores how literature can impact readers, especially when they are being filmed by a world-famous documentary filmmaker. Like an early season of MTV's revolutionary reality series "The Real World" (before it became just about drinking and hooking-up), the play explores how people react when confronted by others who see life, and literature, differently than they do. Directed by Horizon co-artistic director Jeff Adler, the expert six-person cast is led by five-time Suzi Award nominee, Wendy Melkonian, as the picture-perfect newspaper columnist and book club founder Ana (pronounced "Ah-nuh", and please don't ever call her Annie).

The titular book club, which is a beloved part of each member's life, is filled with an interesting mix of idiosyncratic characters. The club has a whole host of strict rules governing page length, book choice order, and most importantly, the addition of new members. The rules are so solemnly observed, that I anticipated the first rule of book club to be, "Don't talk about Book Club." However, all of the rules begin to fly out the window with the introduction of a robotic camera that films all of the group's sessions for use in a documentary.

The play explores the ever-evolving roles of literature and culture, and for someone who reads by himself, and not with a group, brought to light a lot of questions that I have never discussed with others; language versus plot, art versus entertainment, physical versus electronic books. As funny and thought-provoking as the script is, it succeeds most, as do good books, with interesting characters that provide a level of truth that allows the audience (reader) to alternately identify with each individual character.

Each book club member maintains his or her own level of pretense in front of the camera that is only peeled away as they explore the books that the group reads. Each book leads to a new revelation that ultimately jeopardizes the survival of the beloved book club itself.

Melkonian plays the "always in control" Ana perfectly. She is not the easiest character to like, but through hilariously dismissive facial expressions and nuanced line readings, Melkonian brings a humanity and vulnerability to a character that could easily be played for simple, mean-spirited laughs (Read BWW's Q&A with Melkonian on her character and career). Her jock husband, Rob, whom I found to be most relatable, loves book club, just not reading; Rob is played by Bryan Brendle, who bears a striking resemblance to Broadway and "Glee" star Matthew Morrison. The hilarious John Benzinger plays the other founding member of the club, Will, Rob's sophisticated college roommate and Ana's first love. The group is rounded out by habitually scatterbrained Jen (the delightful Maria Rodriguez-Sager) and Ana's protege Lily (the excellent Danielle Deadwyler).

The group is forever changed when Jen brings a lonely-looking outsider to book club, violating all protocol. Played by the terrific Dan Triandiflou, Alex is a professor of comparative literature who brings his new-found questions about books to the group. The rabble-rouser forces the group's members to reexamine their lives through the prism of what they read, and ultimately redefines what book club is.

Interspersed with book-related vignettes, the story moves quickly from farcical humor to intellectual insight, much like the books it focuses on; "Moby Dick," "The Age of Innocence," "Twilight," "The Return of Tarzan," and "The DaVinci Code."

The beautifully detailed and realistic set is so perfect that it is easy to believe that it was meticulously decorated by Ana. The two-time Suzi winning twins Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay, again show why they are two of Atlanta's best designers.

The Horizon Theatre Company's production of "The Book Club Play" is an enjoyable must-see for all of Atlanta's book and theatre lovers. To get your tickets call 404-584-7450 or visit their website.


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