The title of the Cincinnati Playhouse’s current production, The Book Club Play, straightforwardly describes the show (presented in the Thompson Shelterhouse Theatre), a comedy about five people with some personal history who come together for monthly conversations about books. But two catalysts disrupt their dynamic and multiply the humor. First, an avant-garde filmmaker has convinced the hostess Ana (Kate Cook), a control-freak newspaper columnist, to allow him to install a camera in her sleek apartment to document their interactions, making everyone self-conscious. Second, Jen (Lesley Gurule), a neurotic but tenderhearted paralegal, invites a casual acquaintance Alex (Joel Reuben Ganz), a professor of comparative literature, to join the gathering, dividing the allegiances of other members.
The cast is rounded out by Ana’s nice-guy husband Rob (Mike Ostroski), an uncomplicated fellow who never reads the books; Rob’s tightly wound college roommate Will (Jeffrey C. Hawkins), a snobbish intellectual; and Lily (Toccarra Cash), an up-and-coming journalist who injects sassy racial diversity into the group. Mixed gently by playwright Karen Zacarias, The Book Club Play resembles a cleverly written TV sitcom: lots of laughs, a few profundities and plot twists and a happy resolution.
The play’s scenes progress — perhaps more accurately, regress — through a series of novels reflecting tastes, aspirations and differences: Moby Dick, The Age of Innocence, Twilight, The Da Vinci Code and The Return of Tarzan. Zacarias provides glimpses into the club’s deliberations with self-conscious personal revelations, frustrations and complications, and director Blake Robison keeps everything moving at a rapid clip. (The show runs two hours, including an intermission.) There are numerous references to literature, culture and film, and the actors fill scene transitions with brief vignettes as other book lovers: a guy in prison who doles out book chapters like drugs, a greeter at Walmart who surprises with his taste in books, and an elderly librarian who pushes the envelope.
If you’ve been in a book club, you’ll recognize the dynamic; if you haven’t, you’ll still be amused by the group dynamic. It’s apparent that the Playhouse has struck a resonant chord with The Book Club Play: Initially planned to close on April 28, it’s been extended to May 5 due to demand for tickets — including a lot of group sales to book clubs.
THE BOOK CLUB PLAY, presented by the Cincinnati Playhouse, continues through May 5.