The format is almost universal in reality television: Something happens, then the camera breaks away for private, individual interviews, where the characters freely talk about each other.
Maybe it’s a setup. Then again, Ana quickly learns that nothing in her beloved book club is private when the cameras are rolling.
Ana is the founder and leader of the Book Club in Swine Palace’s production of Karen Zacarias’ comedy, “The Book Club Play,” which opens Friday, April 24, in the Reilly Theatre. Pay-what-you-can and preview performances are scheduled Wednesday and Thursday, April 22-23.
That’s when audiences will see what happens when a group of friends invite a Danish filmmaker to document their interaction not only at club meetings but in life.
“Ana is at the center of it all,” says Addie Barnhart, who plays Ana. “She doesn’t realize that she’s surrounded by characters who aren’t just there to serve her.”
But Ana isn’t an author, and people can’t be manipulated as easily as book characters. Even her adoring husband doesn’t always live up to her ideal life story.
His name is Rob, he’s not really into literature.
“He’s into the food,” says Colton Neidhardt, who plays Rob. “And he likes his friends and the fun they have when they meet. He’s sloppy, but he’s sincere.”
Neidhardt can’t help laughing at his character.
“Personally, I’m a little more intellectual and curious than he is,” he says. “But it’s fun to shut down.”
Zacaria’s play premiered in 2008 at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland. It has since been a favorite production among regional theaters.
“The playwright took on the idea of a group of youngish people who are so connected through electronics that they’ve become disconnected from each other,” says George Judy, Swine Palace’s artistic director and director of this show. “Ana started this book club in college, and through this club, the group is trying to find a community to connect to. It’s more about people than it is about books and how they find truth in the books -- how the book characters are some of our most lasting friends.”
But another discovery is made along the way.
“They reconnect with the real world and realize they have the power to write their own stories,” Judy says.
Which is an idea Ana runs with when the camera is rolling.
“This is her approach to the world,” Barnhard says. “Her relationship with the people around her is, ‘This is the role you play, because you’re in my life.’”
One of those role players is Rob’s best friend Will, played by Anthony McMurray. Will is totally opposite of Rob.
“He’s a museum curator of Greek antiquities and an all-around Renaissance man,” McMurray says. “He’s well-dressed, dapper and very well-read.”
And there’s yet another dimension to this part of the story — Ana and Will dated in college, and Ana believes Will still carries a torch for her.
Which, once again, places Ana at the center of her finely crafted story, which begins to disintegrate when the movie camera exposes the club’s intimate discussions about life and literature, which aren’t always pretty.
What reality format ever is? It’s the conflict that entertains, especially when things become intentionally comedic.
And Ana never intended for her story to be funny, but it is. “It’s sort of like ‘The Breakfast Club,’” Barnhard says. “But the characters are a little older.”
But older doesn’t always mean wiser, especially when characters are writing their own stories.