TAP’s Book Club Play: Reading between the Lines

The Book Club Play reveals much about human nature

I’m not sure whether Third Avenue PlayWorks’ (TAP) production of The Book Club Play has convinced me that I need to join a book club or avoid them at all costs. What I am sure of, though, is that The Book Club Play is a must-see for lovers of books.

In this play by Karen Zacarías, everything about Ana Smith’s life is just so: She has a perfect house, perfect husband, perfect job writing columns for a newspaper and, most importantly, her beloved book club, perfected to her standards. When a famous documentarian who wants to explore the phenomenon of book clubs in America approaches Ana, she jumps on the opportunity to show the world the importance and wonder of book clubs.

Once a new club member is introduced and the wine starts flowing, the perfect dynamic among the members starts to fall apart, and the sanctity of the book club breaks down as the pressure of the documentary reveals more about club members than they may have wanted.

In addition to Ana (Cassandra Bissell), the book club is made up of Lily Louise Jackson (Saran Bakari), the one who is always on the newest trends and Ana’s protégé at work; Robert Novum Smith Jr. (Neil Brookshire), Ana’s husband, who has a knack for underachieving and not reading the book-club picks; Jennifer McClintock (Katherine Duffy), whose shy and forward attitude makes it hard not to like her; William Lee Nothnagel (Matthew Martinez Hannon), Robert’s well-read and well-dressed roommate from college, who also happens to be Ana’s ex-boyfriend; and newcomer Alex (Nick Vidal), a literature professor who’s lost his passion and is searching for something real.

Audience members who belong to book clubs will find humor in each character portraying stereotypical members you’ll find in book clubs, but you also don’t have to be in one to appreciate what The Book Club Play is really about: finding a community of people who let you be you.

The group’s book discussions start with a more academic approach: themes, metaphors and whether there is a homosexual subtext in Moby Dick. But Robert’s discussion of having a personal crisis after (actually) reading The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton starts to shift the types of conversations the members have in relation to what they read. It goes from clinical to personal, analyzing how books make us feel and how they help us understand ourselves better.

The journey of these characters throughout the course of the show felt real – and sometimes raw – as they had to come to terms with their own successes and failures.

As part of TAP’s community outreach and partnerships, the theater company has raised $600 for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which supplies free books to kids from birth to 5 years old. 

There’s still time to catch The Book Club Play, which is on stage until July 24, performed Wednesday-Saturday, 7:30 pm, and Sunday, 2 pm. Visit to find more details and purchase tickets.

The Book Club Play Talkback

Stick around after the July 17 performance for a postshow talkback with Chad Welch from United Way about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, one of Third Avenue PlayWorks’ (TAP) community partners for The Book Club Play.

Welch and TAP’s artistic director, Jacob Janssen, will discuss the Imagination Library, its impact on children in Door County and across the globe, and the importance of books.

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