Theatre Review: The Book Club Play at Villanova Theatre

Villanova Theater opened its 2018 – 2019 season last night with Karen Zacarias’ play, The Book Club Play.  Zacarias, an award-winning playwright from the D.C. area whose works are performed all over the country, hands her baby into the inventive and masterful hands of Director James Ijames, a professor at Villanova.  It couldn’t be in better hands.

Ana Smith and her friend William Nothnagel started a book club for their friends who include her husband, Robert, her coworker Lilly Louise Jackson, and William’s friend Jennifer McClintock. As the play begins they have been enjoying the club, but they have agreed to become a part of a documentary.  That means that their meetings are now videotaped by a camera that captures the entirety of the session. The play develops as each person becomes increasingly more self-conscious and as they each learn more about each other through the books they read.

As Ana, the controlling self-appointed leader of the group, Amy Abrigo captures the bravado and fears of someone who is most comfortable when she is in charge.  As William, her erudite college friend, Kale A. Thompson is surprisingly nuanced in a role that could easily be one dimensional. Robert, Ana’s laid back and attentive husband claims to attend mostly for the food.  Kishia Nixon is ebullient as Lily, Ana’s “protégé” from work and Mary Lyon is both needy and vulnerable as the flighty Jennifer.  This group is slowly breaking down, but the introduction of another character, Alex to join the group and share in their fun.  As the dynamic changes, things go hilariously awry and all learn a greater life lesson than a literary one.  One more character separate from the group introduces several scenes as different pundits both male and female.  In this difficult role, Shawneen Rowe does an incredible job guiding the audience through the changes they experience.

Director Ijames lets his actors make the most of the script.  They teach us that the best benefit of book club is what we learn about each other.  I had only one question.  Why does everyone walk both inside and outside without shoes?  Ijames is ably assisted by Parris Bradley’s practical set, Jerold Forsyth’s lighting design, John Stovicek’s sound and Courtney Boches costumes.  The Book Club Play runs until September 30th.  For information call 610.519.7474 or go online to www.villanovatheatre.org.

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