A New Yorker cartoon pictures a spectacled woman in a witness box, surrounded by judge, jury and attorney, and saying, "I hate this book club!"
This could be the theme of Soulstice Theatre's latest offering, The Book Club Play, a suburban comedy of manners that shows how the simple desire to talk about literature over wine and cheese can go terribly, hilariously wrong.
Essentially a sitcom at the college-reading level, the play lays out the foibles of educated professionals coping with approaching middle age. Ana, a nightmarishly simpering overachiever, one-ups her husband and friends in the titular discussion group, offering her superior insights and snack recipes as exercises in the social will to power. Ana will go to ludicrous extremes to maintain her dominance, but in playwright Karen Zacarías' universe there are no bad people: only people with complex motives. Zacarías carefully constructs each back-story and distinctive voice, making the characters plausible and even sympathetic. The play concludes, mockumentary style, with very funny reports of the characters' lives afterward.
Director Mark Flagg has wisely chosen the format of reader's theater so we can focus on the heart of this literary farce. The actors, concentrating on crisp diction and expressive faces, make the inner workings of the characters clearly legible. Lily Louise Jackson and Charles Lynch, as newcomers to the group, bring welcome naturalism to their roles in a strong ensemble, and Kyle Warras nearly steals the show with a dozen short, satirical characterizations of various "book experts" with vocal and facial buffoonery reminiscent of Adam Sandler.
If anything, the ensemble strains a bit too hard to be funny-they can relax: The Book Club Play is a clever, diverting comedy, worth the time, especially for us bookish types who prefer NPR to the NFL.
Runs April 3-4 at the Soulstice Academy Studio Theatre in the Marian Center, 3195 S. Superior St.