Dallas Theater Center’s productions usually are designed to stimulate the senses, the brain or both. I wouldn’t say the company’s plays and musicals are inaccessible to inexperienced theatergoers, but it’s rare that DTC goes truly broad with the storytelling.
The latest, The Book Club Play, is one of its more mainstream efforts. Playing at Kalita Humphreys Theater through February 1, the comedy centers on members of a book club whose lives start to get disrupted when their leader, Ana (Christie Vela), allows a documentary filmmaker to install a camera in her living room.
The more things get disturbed, the more absurd the characters start to act, making the play funnier and funnier.
Ana’s husband Rob (Jeffrey Schmidt) is a member mostly because he’s already at the house. Will (Steven Michael Walters) is an old college friend who has ulterior motives for attending. Jen (Sarah Rutan) enjoys the drinking part of book club a bit too much, while Lily (Tiana Kaye Johnson) is a young co-worker of Ana’s whose enthusiasm causes issues on both Ana’s home and work fronts.
Each reacts to the presence of the camera in different ways, but all of them start exhibiting abnormal behavior. Things get even further out of whack when Jen brings in Alex (Brandon Potter), a literature professor whose own personal turmoil has led him to try embracing more popular books like Twilight.
The whole play has the vague feel of a television sitcom, and each of the actors hams it up to a certain degree. For example, Ana’s wanting to have control over the book club and the choices they make leads to her becoming more and more manic as the play goes along. Although part of the overacting could be the characters’ reacting to the documentary camera, it never really plays that way.
That’s not to say the play isn’t entertaining; it just isn’t as sophisticated as other recent DTC offerings. Anyone with a passing familiarity with the books the group reads, such as Moby-Dick, The Age of Innocence and The Da Vinci Code, will likely gain extra enjoyment, as will anyone who’s known the sometimes turbulent world of book clubs.
But you don’t really need to know either to appreciate the effort put in by these actors. The more things get disturbed, the more absurd the characters start to act, making the play funnier and funnier. The group complements each other well, often lifting each other in key moments.
Vela, who’s been mostly a supporting performer with DTC in recent productions, is elevated to the lead here — but it’s not a role she flourishes in. Walters, who has impressed in other parts the last few years, seems more naturally at ease and steals many a scene.
Other standouts include Potter, the newest member of DTC’s Brierley Resident Acting Company, and Schmidt, whose character grows stronger with each passing scene.
It’s not as memorable as other plays DTC has put on recently, but The Book Club Play still has its fair share of hilarious moments. Plus, any play that takes you come back to the cozy confines of Kalita Humphreys Theater is one worth seeing.