Theatre Review: Horizon Theatre’s “brilliantly funny” The Book Club Play

By Manning Harris

fmanningh@gmail.com

Shortly after Act II begins in Horizon Theatre’s delightful production of Karen Zacarias’ “The Book Club Play,” Will (John Benzinger) has an ecstatic epiphany as a result of reading “The Da Vinci Code.”

These things happen, you know, and although I’d love to tell you all about it, I cannot:  It would be a huge spoiler.  What I can say is that Mr. Benzinger is brilliantly funny, and you must not miss “The Book Club Play,” running through June 23.

It’s the most completely enjoyable show I’ve seen in Atlanta in quite awhile, and it’s a perfect fit for the Horizon’s cozy theatre.  Directed by Jeff Adler, “Book Club” boasts a dream cast—so good that you can’t imagine anyone else playing these roles.  More about them in a moment.

Ana (that’s pronounced Ah-nuh, if you please, played by Wendy Melkonian) and her down-to-earth husband Rob (Bryan Brendle) are the hosts of a book club which meets about every two weeks in their home (a to-die-for set by Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay).  There’s Jen (Maria Rodriguez-Sager), Lily (Danielle Deadwyler), the aforementioned Mr. Benzinger; and Alex (Dan Triandiflou), a club newcomer and a professor of comparative literature, who managed to pass Ana’s rather stringent screening process.  The club was largely Ana’s brainchild, and she relishes her role as head facilitator.

In addition, it seems that Danish documentary filmmaker Lars Knudsen wants to record the dynamics of a book club, and the group reluctantly agrees.  They’re instructed to pay no attention to the camera and simply carry on as usual.  Easier said than done, and the filming adds another layer of comedy to a situation already pregnant with comic, ironic possibilities.

Does Melville’s “Moby Dick” have a homoerotic subtext?  Is the vampire bestseller “Twilight” simply too bourgeois to merit inclusion in a “serious” bookclub?  These and other questions are explored by our intrepid book club members.

But the real fun of “The Book Club Play” lies in the comic revelations of the six characters’ human foibles—whether it’s learning that the burly Rob actually prefers renting the movie of the book; or who in the group is secretly attracted to whom (and steals an on camera—oops—kiss).

Emily Dickinson said, “There is no frigate like a book” (God bless her); and Shakespeare said, “Lord, what fools these mortals be.”  The brilliance of playwright Zacarias is her recognition and amalgamation of these two truths in her play.  And therein lies the fun for the audience.

We are blessed with a cast which possesses what I shall call a communal comic sense.  They make it all seem so easy.  But what civilians (non-theatre folk) often don’t realize is that comedy is really more difficult than “serious drama” to pull off; it requires a certain inborn talent of its actors that cannot be taught.  It is my hope that come award time, the Suzi voters remember this truism and reward these actors and “The Book Club Play.”

They’re all fine:  I’d call Mr. Benzinger first among equals, but Ms. Melkonian, Mr. Brendle, Ms. Rodriguez-Sager, Ms. Deadwyler, and the surprising Mr. Triandiflou are close behind.  Real close.  See  “The Book Club Play”; thank me later.

For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com.

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