Just when the documentary television show “Hard Knocks” chooses to focus on the Oakland Raiders, 6th Street Playhouse opens its 2019-2020 season with a literary version of the same format. “The Book Club Play” puts the spotlight on a highly functional book club that has five very different members. Chaos ensues when the five members become the subject of a documentary film.
Everyone suddenly becomes self-conscious, egos emerge and conflict, and a comparative literature teacher stirs up the conservative interaction of the book club members. To say that it was once a functional book club seems to invent an oxymoron. What book club was ever functional where all the members read the entire book for each meeting and all were prepared to engage in an intelligent discussion? So, when a delicate dynamic exists between five members who are staid and studious, any addition to the formula may be destructive.
This lovely comedy should only be entrusted to a comedic director such as Jess Headington. We saw her abilities to perform in a one woman show last Dec., “The Twelve Dates of Christmas” at 6th Street Playhouse. Then, in early spring, she played the lead in “Barbeque Apocalypse” at Spreckels. Headington has been practicing her craft as an actor and director for over twenty-five years. Her favorite book is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.
6th Street Playhouse proclaims that Ana, played by Maureen O’Neill, is “charming, accomplished, and Mother Bee of the group.” A fitting role for a teacher of theater arts, O’Neill must strive to make Ana conniving and controlling as Ana rules the book club with the well-known iron fist. She has little regard for her husband Rick (Marc Assad) who has no backbone to help him stand up to his tyrant wife. All of this makes O’Neill’s choice of a favorite book seem out of character with Ana as the actress favors “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger. Unlike Ana, Claire is a nurturing and supporting wife.
No surprise that Marc Assad chooses “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho as his favorite book. The character Rob may seek a spiritual journey spirit seeking role model. As Ana’s golden-boy, handsome and charismatic, Rob has been an under-achiever and has been willing to follow Ana’s lead.
John Browning plays Will, Rob’s conservative college roommate and Ana’s former boyfriend. He brings canine loyalty as the true and loyal friend. He is dumped on repeatedly and always comes back for more rough treatment. Browning keeps in character with Will by not daring to designate a favorite book.
Jen, played by Heather Gibeson, shy and smart, not always a mousey yes-girl, has her moments when she takes charge and states her truths. Gibeson favors “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” just as Jen will always hope for a positive outcome where the underdog will overcome all odds.
Brittany Nicole Sims plays the go-getter, Lily, who laughs at inappropriate times but is grounded and down-to-earth and fun to watch as she has moments of self-discovery. Sharon Flake’s “The Skin I’m In,” Sims’ favorite book, matches some of the character of Lily, who has her own reasons to lack self-confidence.
Eyan Dean plays Alex, described as “the new guy, an academic who his lost his moorings and is searching for a real connection.” Alex appears to be socially awkward but extremely intelligent which causes Ana to hate him. He presents the force that disrupts the staid behavior of the book club. Eyan Dean’s favorite book, “The Shadow Puppets,” by Orson Scott Card would, no doubt, be loved by the social catastrophe, Alex, who could related to some of Achilles’ issues.
Look for characters speaking directly to the audience as if looking directly at a camera. Graduate students are trying to capture the dynamics of the book club. The characters, on their best behavior, have canned speeches about who they are and why they like reading and what books mean to them.
6th Street Playhouse offers five reasons to see “The Book Club Play”: “1. Be in all of the festivities for the first show of the enticing new season in the newly renamed Monroe Stage (formerly the Studio Theatre). 2. It’s not about a movie, it’s a play written by a hot new playwright, about a club that agrees to be filmed for a documentary and all the chaos that ensues. 3. The play was widely popular wherever it played. 4. Close up seating in the Monroe puts you right in the middle of the action. And now all seats are reserved. 5. Free book exchange. Bring a gently used book, or two, and pick up a new one to enjoy.”
“The Book Club Play” opens Fri., Aug. 23 at 7:30 p.m. and runs through Sept. 15. Ticket information can be found by calling 707-523-4185 or by emailing info@6thstreetplayhouse.
So what are our favorite books? “Moby Dick” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Retired teachers, it figures.