THE BOOK CLUB PLAY Offers Laughter, Literature And Love Triangles

THE BOOK CLUB PLAY Offers Laughter, Literature And Love Triangles

Villanova Theatre presents Karen Zacarías's raucous romp, The Book Club Play, hailed as "smart, light and pants-peeingly funny" (chicagocritic.com). Directed by Whiting and Barrymore Award winner James Ijames, this smart hit comedy about books and the people who love them runs September 18-30, 2018.

At first glance, Ana's book club seems like a letter-perfect world for lovers of literature. But things soon take a turn for the outrageous when she invites a Danish documentarian to film her and her fellow members. Add a provocative newcomer and some startling titles, and these six "frenemies" are bound for bedlam, as Ana's living room quickly transforms into "Lord of the Flies with wine and dip."

With a style reminiscent of "mockumentaries" like The Office, Parks and Recreation and Waiting for Guffman, The Book Club Play is as much about human connection as it is about books. In Zacarías's modern comedy of manners, characters make and break alliances, share intimate truths, and hilariously undermine each other, as the pressure of being constantly watched brings the group to its boiling point.

Dramaturg CJ Miller is fascinated by the way each character wrestles with public versus private behavior, noting that, "the members of the book club have agreed to have an important part of their lives filmed, but some feel that the camera begins to cross boundaries even when it's just sitting there. Why?" he wonders, "At a time when social media is so prevalent, and so many of us put so much of our lives on display for the world, what is the new definition of privacy?" Miller has researched the rise of documentary filmmaking and reality television in order to inform a rehearsal process that highlights the ways in which we curate our identities for an audience.

Married couple Ana (Amy Abrigo) and Rob (Ethan Mitchell) are subjects at the center of a documentary film in THE BOOK CLUB PLAY. Photo by Kimberly Reilly.

What attracted James Ijames to The Book Club Play was how the plot seems to burst forth from "a merry marriage of storytelling and community." As director, his focus is on building the ensemble's spirited dynamic, and exploring how that dynamic is turned on its head by the watchful eye of the camera. Ijames plays with the idea of how characters are at times hyper-aware of the camera, and how that awareness begins to fade, followed by the jolt of remembering they're being recorded. According to Ijames, this "joyful claustrophobia" can affect everything from the type of conversations being had to the way a character moves.

The creative team is also interested in the way Zacarías prioritizes diversity, which Miller says "allows us to break some preconceived notions of the kind of people who read and, more importantly, who do not read books." Hailed as "distinctive, sharp and exceptionally well written," (Talkin' Broadway) The Book Club Play examines the intersection of "high" and "low" culture - Moby Dick vs. Twilight -- with a lightness and humor that audiences will devour like a good book.

Set Designer Parris Bradley evokes the unblinking eye of the camera lens with his revolving turntable set that allows the audience to feel like they're part of the action no matter where they're seated. Costume designer Courtney Boches lends a subtle whimsy to the stage with playful references to each novel being discussed by the book club (look out for a bit of supernatural sparkle from any characters who identify as "Team Edward" during the Twilight session). Resident designers Jerold R. Forsyth (Lighting) and John Stovicek (Sound) work to create a world where truth really is stranger than fiction.

The tight-knit and talented cast includes: presidential scholar Amy Abrigo (Ana Smith), first-year graduate student Ethan Mitchell (Robert Novum Smith Jr.), first-year acting scholars Kale Thompson (William Lee Nothnagel) and Jerald Bennett (Alex), second-year graduate student Mary Lyon (Jennifer McClintock), second-year acting scholar Shawneen Rowe (Pundits), and Philadelphia actress Kishia Nixon (Lily Louise Jackson). The Book Club Play runs at Villanova Theatre in Vasey Hall from September 18-30, 2018. Speaker's Night, immediately following the performance on Thursday, September 27,will feature a Q&A talkback with Villanova Professor and documentary filmmaker Hezekiah Lewis (see full biographical information below).

Vasey Hall is located on Villanova's main campus at the intersection of Lancaster & Ithan Avenues. Performances will be held Tuesdays - Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets run $21-$25 with discounts available for seniors, students, MA in Theatre alumni, and groups. Tickets may be purchased at the Villanova Theatre Box Office (M-S, 12-5 pm) in person, by phone: (610) 519-7474, or online at www.villanovatheatre.org.

James Ijames, MFA, is an Assistant Professor of Theatre and a Philadelphia-based actor, director and playwright. He has appeared regionally at Arden Theatre Company, Philadelphia Theatre Company, The Wilma Theater, Baltimore Center Stage and InterAct Theatre Company, among others. His own produced plays include WHITE, The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington, Moon Man Walk, The Threshing Floor and Osiris: Redux, and Kill Move Paradise (running concurrently with The Book Club Play at The Wilma). In 2017, he received the prestigious Whiting Award for Drama and was granted a Pew Fellow Residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts in California. In 2015, he was awarded a Pew Fellowship and the Kesselring Honorable Mention Prize. In 2011, he received an Independence Foundation Fellowship in Performing Arts to train and create a new solo piece called FRoNTiN with Emmanuelle Delpech and Shavon Norris. His Barrymore Awards include the 2011 F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Theatre Artist, awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play (for Superior Donuts and Angels in America), and, most recently, the 2014 Barrymore for Outstanding Direction of a Play for his work on The Brothers Size. Ijames is a member of the InterAct Core Writers Group and a mentor for The Foundry. He received a BA in Drama from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA and an MFA in Acting from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA; at Villanova, he teaches Acting and Collaborative Theatre Making.

Karen Zacarías is the first playwright-in-residence at Arena Stage in Washington, DC and has taught playwriting at Georgetown University. She is the founder of Young Playwrights' Theater, an award-winning theater company that teaches playwriting in local public schools in Washington, DC. YPT won the 2010 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the White House as one of the most innovative arts programs in the nation. The YPT curriculum is currently being used in public schools in DC, VA, MD, LA, MI, and TX, and is published on Amazon as "Write to Dream." Zacarías's award-winning plays include the sold-out/extended comedy The Book Club Play, the sold-out world premiere drama Just Like Us (adapted from the book by Helen Thorpe) at Denver Theater Center, the Steinberg/ATCA-cited play Legacy of Light, the Francesca Primus Award-winning play Mariela in the Desert, the Helen Hayes Award-winning play The Sins of Sor Juana (the adaptation of Julia Alvarez's How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents). Zacarías also has a piece in the Arena Stage premiere of Our War. Her TYA musicals with composer Debbie Wicks la Puma include Jane of the Jungle, Einstein is a Dummy, Looking for Roberto Clemente, Cinderella Eats Rice and Beans, Ferdinand the Bull, and Frida Libre. Her musical Chasing George Washington premiered at The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and went on a National Tour. Her script was then adapted into a book by Scholastic with a foreword by First Lady Michelle Obama. Zacarías's awards include: New Voices Award, 2010 Steinberg/ATCA Citation for Best New Play, Paul Aneillo Award, National Francesca Primus Prize, New Voices Award, National Latino Play Award, Finalist Susan Blackburn, Helen Hayes for Outstanding New Play.

Hezekiah L. Lewis III (Writer/Director/Producer/Professor) is an alumnus of UCLA's MFA film directing program. Lewis attended Villanova University on a football scholarship. As a Communication major, he co-founded and served as artistic director for the Villanova Television Station along with directing numerous documentaries and short narratives. He was offered a Presidential Fellowship to attend Villanova's graduate school where he completed a Master's degree in Theatre. At UCLA, Lewis completed various short films and documentaries promoting social change and awareness. He has received numerous awards for his outstanding efforts, which commemorate and recognize him for his dedication and passion for filmmaking.

Villanova Theatre is a community of artist-scholars committed to transforming hearts and minds through the visionary production of classical, modern, and contemporary dramatic literature. Our work is fueled by the imaginative striving common to Villanova's accomplished faculty, versatile staff, and energetic graduate students. Together, we are devoted to creating a vibrant theatre enriched by and overflowing with the ideas explored in our classrooms. In all of our endeavors, we aim to share the dynamic experience of collaborative learning with our audiences in order to engage the intellect and stir the soul. As a facet of Villanova University, Villanova Theatre serves the campus community as well as thousands of theatre-goers from the Main Line and the Greater Philadelphia area.

Since 1842, Villanova University's Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges - the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Charles Widger School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.

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