Review: Book ‘The Book Club Play’ at Silver Spring Stage

Enticing comedic tension that's both sexual and intellectual.

Whether you’re an avid reader or a theater buff or both, there’s a supersmart, superfunny show up in Silver Spring that should be on your short list.

Marking its 52nd anniversary (!), community theater Silver Spring Stage has programmed a tantalizing year of contemporary classics—among them Sweat by Lynn Nottage, Yellow Face by David Henry Hwang, and Perfect Arrangement by Topher Payne. Kicking off its season is the The Book Club Play by DC’s own comic genius Karen Zacarías, the only local on American Theatre magazine’s list of most-produced playwrights.

Nicholas Bashour (Will), Camille Pozderac (Jen), Jasmine Jones (Lily), Spencer Knoll (Rob), Lena Winter (Ana) in ‘The Book Club Play.’ Photo by Harvey Levine.

We’re in the home of married couple Ana and Rob, their comfortable living room to be exact, designed by Bill Dunbar with a decor that never met an earth tone it didn’t adore. The bossy newspaper columnist Ana, played with arresting gusto by Lena Winter, conducts the titular book club here, and its members are already gathered to dive into Moby-Dick.

Camille Pozderac (Jen), Nicholas Bashour (Will), Jasmine Jones (Lily) in ‘The Book Club Play.’ Photo by Harvey Levine.

There’s Ana’s closeted friend Will, played with amusing agitation by Nicholas Bashour. There’s the eager-to-fit-in Lily, assistant to Ana at work, played with impressive brains and brass by Jasmine Jones. There’s Ana’s ex-collegiate-jock husband Rob, who never reads the assigned book, played with relatable out-of-place-ness by Spencer Knoll. Arriving late is their anxious and insecure friend Jen, played with outstanding emotional precision by Camille Pozderac.

The twist is that Ana by prior arrangement has permitted a documentary filmmaker to install a camera to record everything they do and say. So it’s: Let’s put on a reality show! At first, all introduce themselves to the camera (and thereby to us). But a running gag is that they are often oblivious of it, especially during hilariously awkward and compromising goings on—which over the course of their six biweekly meetings include three impetuous full-mouth kisses and sudden declarations of passion. As ever, a subtext is sex.

Zacarías has packed a catalogue of other clever treats into this comedy, and one of most interesting is the book choice she’s given each character. Lily, for instance, astonishes everyone by picking Twilight. And laggard reader Rob, humored with a chance to name a childhood fave, opts for Return of Tarzan.

Nicholas Bashour (Will), Lena Winter (Ana), Camille Pozderac (Jen), Jasmine Jones (Lily), Andrew S. Greenleaf (Alex), Spencer Knoll (Rob) in ‘The Book Club Play.’ Photo by Harvey Levine Photo by Harvey Levine.
Caroline Adams (Pundit) in ‘The Book Club Play.’ Photo by Harvey Levine.Photo by Harvey Levine.

A surprise drop-in is Alex, a comp lit professor played with low-key certitude by Andrew S. Greenleaf. Alex was invited by Lily when she saw him in the laundry room of their building reading Twilight. This prompts Will and Ana to fulminate over the fact Alex was never vetted. But it also introduces a fun current of controversy about the relative worth of high-brow classics and pop-culture fare. Alex praises the latter. All of which is to say the enticing comedic tension that heats up in The Book Club Play is not only sexual but intellectual.

Caroline Adams (Pundit) in ‘The Book Club Play.’ Photo by Harvey Levine.Photo by Harvey Levine.

There’s some terrific meta-theatricality at play, notably the monologues between scenes by Caroline Adams, who appears as five different characters, each more outrageous than the last, riffing on the meaning of books. Adams seems to transmogrify before our eyes as she becomes by turns a literary agent, a Walmart stock manager, a skydiving librarian, and more. These interludes cover for the cast’s five full changes of costume (designed with astute flair by Eric Scerbo), but they’re also their own reward.

The Book Club Play at Silver Spring Stage is truly novel, an actual thinking person’s entertainment. And as directed by Karen Fleming at a brisk and witty pace, it’s the theatrical equivalent of a laugh-out-loud page turner.

Ana: Lena Winter; Lily: Jasmine Jones; Rob: Spencer Knoll; Jen: Camille Pozderac; Will: Nicholas Bashour; Alex: Andy Greenleaf; Pundit: Caroline Adams.

Director & Co-Producer: Karen Fleming; Co-Producer: Jennifer Dorsey; Assistant Director: Janet VA Replogle; Stage Manager: Denise M. Gilmore; Set Designer & Master Carpenter: Bill Dunbar; Scenic Painter: K.O. Myers; Set Construction & Painting: Nancy Davis, Karen Fleming, Denise Gilmore, Joyce Kraimer & Joy Wyne; Set Dressing: Nancy Davis, Bill Dunbar & Joy Wyne; Lighting Designer: Bill Strein; Lighting Technician: Jim Robertson; Projections: Steve Deming; Graphics: Leigh K. Rawls; Sound Designer & Composer: Patrick Hughes; Sound Technician: Jeff Mikoni; Properties Designers: Carlton & Jane Maryott; Costume Designer: Erie Scerbo; Photographers: Harvey Levine &Jon Goell; Artistic Liaison: Jacy D’Aiutolo; Opening Night Reception: Seth Ghitelman.

Running Time: Two hours, including one intermission.

The Book Club Play plays through October 12, 2019, at Silver Spring Stage, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD, located in the Woodmoor Shopping Center. Purchase tickets at the door, by phone (301) 593-6036, or online.

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John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg is executive editor of DC Theater Arts. He writes both reviews and his Magic Time! column, which he named after that magical moment between life and art just before a show begins. In it, he explores how art makes sense of life—and vice versa—as he reflects on meanings that matter in the theater he sees. Decades ago, in college, John began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile, his own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then John’s life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction essays, articles, and books and had a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg. Member, American Theatre Critics Association.


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