“The Book Club Play” – Actors Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ June 23, 2014


Actors Theatre, Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center
Phoenix, AZ

Our summers are hot and unpleasant so summer theater should present light comedies that amuse and distract audiences from the heat.  But comedies can hide deeper messages about the intricacies of our lives.  Leave it to Actors Theatre to find such a play, Karen Zacarias’ “The Book Club Play,” stage it sharply, cast it perfectly, and use it to kick off the troupe’s first summer season in style.

Oh, it’s not the perfect play because it takes time in the long first act to get the scene set and establish the relationships between the six characters.  But by late in the first act and through the funnier and shorter second act, you’ll have a great time laughing.

Be warned that the curtain goes up early at 7 p.m. but on stage Matthew Wiener’s brisk production delighted a large opening night crowd.  “The Book Club Play” is about a five-member book club that’s heaped in a myriad of ridiculous rules and silly regulations.  Even welcoming a new Club member creates a convoluted situation that not all members agree on.

What is so funny is that each book club member has insightful revelations about themselves that are unexpected even after we learn about each member’s initial quirks and skewed thinking.  As the group discusses various books everyone approaches each assignment differently so they gain different perspectives about their lives from each book.  Wiener’s staging adds its own malarkey to the play’s funny insights.

Wiener’s excellent ensemble plays “The Book Club Play’s” comic mayhem with sublime comic frivolity.  Maren Maclean’s Ana is the cautious but strangely troubled club leader and founder.  Maclean starts completely together but falls apart as the revelations take their toll on her character.  Joe Kremer plays her always perplexed and slightly dimwitted husband, Rob, with the funniest faces and daffiest looks I’ve ever seen on stage.  Alexis Green’s Lily restrains herself artfully until truths impact her character.  Tyler Eglen’s Will makes a dramatic change from a sedately conservative guy into a wild character when he discovers an unique thing about his character.  Angelica Howland has a field day with Jen who also does some weirdly odd things as she opens up to who her character really is.  Ian Christiansen’s Alex arrives as the new Club member and upsets the Club’s framework as he rocks the Club membership.

“The Book Club Play” is a laugh-out-loud delight that warns us to watch ourselves.  It earns a B only because it takes time to get going.  It continues in repertory with “The Cottage” that opens this weekend through August 17.  For tickets, call the Actors Theatre box office at 602-888-0368 or order tickets online at www.actorstheatrephx.org.

Grade: B