Tryon Little Theater Kicks Off Season with Comedy, Insight and Pundits
By Steve Wong
If you love great literature and laughing at quirky characters in embarrassing predicaments, you’ll love The Book Club Play, the first play of Tryon Little Theater’s current season.
This character-driven comedy written by Karen Zacarias is about six book lovers (actually five because the husband is just there for the chips and dip) trying to act natural at their routine book club meetings while a camera records their every misdeed and misspoken word. Although there are laughs aplenty as these characters reveal more about themselves than they should, there is a subtle lesson to be learned about trusting, accepting, and writing about your friends and lovers.
Throughout the two acts and six scenes that take place in Ana and Robert Smith’s eclectic vintage living room, a seventh actor of many characters — the pundits — steps into the camera’s glare to deliver quips of useless but funny insight about literature and life. As a book-dealing convict, book-dumb Wal-Mart employee, distracted secret service agent, jaded literary agent, and sky-diving grandma, actor Alex Tapp is just-as-cute-as-can-be in the commercial breaks. Loved the drag, even more so than the chic black-and-white prison two-piece with matching cap.
Leading the cast is Brenda Craig as Ana, a control freak who constantly refers to the book club as “my book club,” despite being repeatedly corrected — “our book club” — by the gay and dapper Will, played by Mark Sawyer. By day, Ana is a columnist for the local newspaper and wife to ex-jock Robert, but the book club is what is really turns her page. She has her reasons. But she turns the book club and her life upside down when she agrees to let a famous film director place a camera in the living room to gather footage for a documentary. At first, everyone in the club is thrilled to be the subject of another medium. They quickly learn the locked camera is capturing off-color comments about Moby “Dick,” stolen kisses, and marital and mental meltdowns.
Playing Ana’s better half — Robert — is Guy Winker. The last book Robert actually read was Tarzan of the Apes in high school. He’s only a member of the club because his wife told him to and because it usually involves food at his house. He readily admits he’d rather watch the movie than read the book. Even when he finally gets to choose the next book to be read — The Return of Tarzan — he just can’t seem to find the time or desire to read what most of the other members would consider to be rather low-brow entertainment. And, yet, he probably has the best line in the whole play — the last and single four-letter word in the first act.
Holding a unique relationship with the Smiths is Will, a confirmed bachelor and history buff with snob appeal. Sawyer gives this character much better definition than what is usually afforded closeted gay men. Instead of limp wrists and a lisp, Will is more of the bow tie-wearing Charlstonian type of guy — that is until he kisses Robert, who has already been kissed by Jennifer, a slightly slutty young woman who can’t find her keys. Here we see Ana’s vision of herself blur just a little more because she thought she and Will were college lovers, when actually Will was just using her to be near Robert.
Jennifer, played by Lori Lee, was my favorite character, and Lee was my favorite actor of the show. Jennifer, representing a younger generation along with character Lily, speaks her mind and acts on her impulses without the benefit of a common sense filter. With something to hide, she’s honest to a fault and game for just about anything. Lee does an excellent job of expressing the emotion of the moment with wonderful facial expressions and well-timed dialog delivery.
Also representing book readers in their 20s is Lily, played by Alaina Goode. Lily is a young editor at the newspaper where Ana works. Ana would like to think that she is mentoring Lily, but that’s just Ana’s looking at herself through rose-colored glasses. Actually, Lily is smart, young, hip, and from Charlotte, NC. She’s supposed to be Latino, but you could have fooled me on that one. Between Lily and Jen, they’ve read all of the best sellers and know more about modern literature than Ana and Will will ever admit.
Finally, there is Alex, played by Lucas Laughter. Alex comes into the play late at the invitation of Jen and to much disapproval by Ana. Alex is the outsider, injecting much-needed realism into the club’s narrow view of life and literature. But his realism is theoretical because he, too, has limited the scope of his reading and living to dead white men, despite being a college professor of comparative literature. Much of what Alex has to say is delivered with deadpan personality, giving his remarks all the more impact on people who are often one self-realization shy of a nervous breakdown.
Over the course of eight weeks and five book club meetings in this no-name place in modern America, both the characters and the club unravel while the silent and ever-present camera records what will someday be a documentary. It is in spite of the camera and because of the camera that life-changing events take place for these hapless characters. Someone is watching, recording, and planning to take select slices of many lives and reconstruct them into God-knows what. Here lies the greatest secret the play has to offer — a spoiler if ever there was one. Nancy Winker is making her directorial debut at Tryon Little Theater with this play and is doing a fine job keeping it fresh and relevant. As a play most often produced in community theatre, The Book Club Play could easily be stale and dated. Thanks to Winker, it is like any good book, documentary, or play — timeless.
The Book Club Play runs Sept. 29 at the TLT Workshop in downtown Tryon. Tickets and more information can be found at www.tltinfor.org, or by calling (828) 859-2466.