When friends gather regularly for company, shared interests and wine, the group takes on a personality. But when the dynamic is disturbed, the personality necessarily changes. Sometimes, the bonds are strengthened — but not always.
Lamar University department of theatre and dance’s production of Karen Zacarias’ “The Book Club Play,” which runs through Oct. 10, is a sharp and often hilarious look at the tensions that lurk behind the sedate veneer of a group of literature lovers.
Set in Ana and Rob’s living room (beautifully designed by Liz Freese), we are introduced to the characters by way of reality show-style confessionals. Ana (pronounced pretentiously as “Ah-nuh”) announces herself as the driving force behind “her” book club. A columnist for the local paper, Ana (Josie Landry) is self-assured and obviously the group leader.
The book club’s other members are Will (Josh Pendino), Jen (Dominique Roman) and Lily (Taylor Bell), as well as Rob (Judd Cobb), who doesn’t quite share the others’ love of literature.
As the play opens, we are informed that famed documentary filmmaker Lars Knudsen has placed a camera in the room to get candid footage of the book club. They simply need to act as if it’s not there. However, that is easier said than done.
As well as the fly-on-the-wall camera, Jen introduces another fly in the group’s ointment when she invites Alex (Kalan Bonnette), a comparative lit professor to book club without the usual vetting process. As the book club’s traditional dynamic shifts, hidden secrets and agendas bubble to the surface with humorous results.
The cast is well balanced and the interplay between the characters is lively. Landry is excellent to watch as her control slips through her tightly-balled fists. Pendino is familiar to LU audiences and brings his usual solid turn as the pretentious and uptight Will, who is not quite the sophisticate he presents.
Bell and Roman play young women who are at odds with Ana’s tightness, as they are willing to explore new choices — which, in light of Jen’s past choices, is a good thing.
Bonnette’s lithe and jaunty college prof carries himself with languid physicality, which only exaggerates Ana’s uptightness.
Cobb plays Rob as almost a little boy lost. A former jock, he doesn’t get why these classics are so downbeat — and so long. He just wants to revisit the “Tarzan of the Jungle” of his youth. He is searching for something, if only he knew what. Although Rob is outwardly a bit of a doofus, Cobb hints at a soulful melancholy.
Between scenes, Kaylee Lambert and Lana Jeffcoat play a variety of pundits which are guaranteed to keep the audience laughing.
The production, directed by student Ashley Galan, is well paced and the design concepts are smart.
Zacarias’ script is sharp, and the humor comes from the characters’ actions, and the cast smartly resist the urge to act funny, instead letting the situations provide the laughs as we recognize ourselves and our friends in them.
As well as being an exploration of group dynamics, Zacarias raises some interesting questions about what constitutes literature. “The Age of Innocence” and “Twilight” are both books, but are they both literature? And what constitutes literature anyway? “Ulysses” is art, but it’s also a bit of a slog, to say the least. “The Da Vinci Code” is popular, but is it art? College students could get a decent paper out of analyzing this play.
One can read a lot into “The Book Club Play” and this production is well worth checking out.
Show times are 7:30 p.m., Oct. 8 and 9, and 2 p.m., Oct. 10.
General admission tickets are $15. For reservations, visit lamar.edu/theatre.