Aug 26, 2019
by Jeanie K. Smith , San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
This is one very funny play— aided by a group of excellent actors who know how to deliver comedy and are nicely suited for their roles, keeping the audience laughing throughout the two hours. 6th Street Playhouse scores big with their season opener in the newly named and refurbished Monroe Stage (formerly the Studio). Start your September theatre binge with a contemporary comic riff on identity, secrets, and truth— oh, and books, too.
Five very different people, old and new friends from college or work, band together to read books and discuss them— except now, leader of the club Ana (Maureen O’Neill) has agreed to allow famous documentarian Lars Knudsen to videotape the club’s meetings, as he supposedly wants to find out what goes on in these book clubs that have proliferated in recent decades. After Ana explains to her small group about the camera-in-a-box set up in the corner that is remotely operated, each one has a chance to introduce themselves on the video—Marc Assad plays Rob, Ana’s husband who is there mainly for the food; Will, played by John Browning, was in college with both Ana and Rob and is their refined, literate chum; Heather Gibeson as Jen, has been in the club forever it seems, but keenly lacks a mate; and then there’s Lily, played by Brittany Nicole Sims, Ana’s young and hip work colleague, who “earned” her place in the club partly because of her bubbly personality, and partly because Ana wanted to “diversify” the group for the video.
As we get to know these characters while they discuss Moby Dick over wine and snacks, it becomes clear that the camera is having an effect on the group, heightening their interactions and posing new challenges for amicable discussion. The plot twists pile up fast and furious, each new scene, each book, peeling away another layer of civil veneer and spilling over with revelations. When Jen invites Alex (Eyan Dean), a random person she meets in the laundromat, to join in, all Hell very hilariously breaks loose, and the stakes fly higher.
Ana wants their “better selves” to show up for the video; but “true selves” are not necessarily the same thing, and secrets will out when truth is sought— or something like that. It’s all quite comically laid bare, and every character goes through change and growth. Sympathies shift and stories abound— no one is safe, but perhaps everyone ends up as a “better” version of self.
The ensemble excels in their interactions and comedic skills, and also know how to communicate the more serious themes, making each character real. O’Neill shines as uptight leader Ana, and pairs well with Assad as her semi-literate, conflicted husband. Browning makes a great prig, and then delights in his transformation; and Sims makes a terrific trendsetter, treading lightly in her character’s more political nuances. Gibeson captures her character’s type but adds more complexity; and Dean brings much-needed fresh air to the group. They’re all eminently likable and full of surprises.
Kudos to director Jess Headington for great casting and lively movement that avoids sightline issues in a 3/4 thrust stage, as well as nailing the comedy. A stylish scenic design by Conor Woods attractively locates us in status, and lighting by April George subtly focuses attention. Multiple costumes are required for each character, and Gail Reine does a great job with character definition and changes. My one quarrel is with the script, interrupting the action with extraneous monologues that don’t really add to the overall text; and, because they’re one-off random characters, they tend to be played as caricatures— not as amusing as the club scenes, and unnecessary.
If you’re up for a good laugh, grab a seat in the Monroe and let yourself enjoy this bit of fun and charm— it’s a great way to start off the Fall season.— Jeanie Smith
By Karen Zacarias
Presented by 6th Street Playhouse through Sept. 15, 2019
Thu at 7:30pm, Fri/Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2:00pm
Tickets: $18-29; Senior, Under-30, and Group discounts
(707) 523-4185 ext 1
Photos by Eric Chazankin
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