.‘Book Club Play’ meets in Ross Valley

Not in any way affiliated with the same-named 2018 movie, The Book Club Play by Karen Zacarías (currently playing at Ross Valley Players through June 9) is an often-hysterical look at what happens behind the closed doors of that all-American bastion of alcohol, snacks and strong emotions: a book club.

Ana Smith (Elena Wright) has persuaded her carefully curated book club to participate in a documentary chronicling book clubs in America. Along for the ride are her fussy book club co-founder, Wiliam Nothnagel (Matthew Travisano); her reluctant husband, Robert Smith (Mark Vashro); their mousey friend, Jennifer McClintock (Jannely Calmell); and Ana’s newest work protege, Lily Louise Jackson (Chiyako Delores).

Things start to unravel almost as soon as the camera turns on. The arrival of unexpected newcomer Alex (Gabriel A. Ross) throws everything into chaos. Secrets are revealed, grievances are aired and relationships are both forged and shattered, all under the camera’s ever-watchful eye.

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In true Zacarias fashion, there are no true scene shifts in this play. Instead, each inter-scene vignette features a “pundit” who talks about different aspects related to book clubs. All pundits are played by a consistently funny Marsha van Broek.

The play is slow to start, but once Ross gets onstage, it supercharges the rest of the cast. Then, after Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code has a life-changing impact on Travisano’s William, the actors’ performances step up skillfully from silly unease into hilarious chaos. However, Wright’s Ana doesn’t quite match the pace of the rest of the cast and never fully reaches the height needed for her character’s breaking point.

That being said, there is a lot to like here. The set by Ron Krempetz is perfectly executed to tell the story while also being beautiful and functional. The costume design by Valera Coble manages to be coherent for the full cast while also being specific to each character.

Zacarías is fast becoming the bard for everyday Americana, and this script is one of her most-produced for a reason. It is funny, silly and yet truthful. Director Mary Ann Rodgers has an eye for clean blocking and cast unity that allows the comedy to leap off the stage. With the exception of a few timing issues, this is an almost-perfect production.

It is a fitting ending to RVP’s 2023/24 season and one not to be missed.

‘The Book Club Play’ runs through June 9 at the Barn Theatre in the Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. Thurs.-Sat., 7:30pm; Sun., 2pm. $20-$35. 415.456.9555. rossvalleyplayers.com.


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