Known for edgy, non-traditional plays, Silver Spring Stage opens their 2019-2020 season with “The Book Club Play” which fits the description.
Director Karen Fleming saw the play – written by local playwright Karen Zacarías, one of the inaugural Resident Playwrights at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. – a decade or so ago at Round House Theatre. Fleming hoped it would come to the Stage soon after, but on two different occasions, it was not available, until a year and a half ago.
She decided to direct the comedy, calling it one of ill manners, absurdist nonsense rather than broad. The book club of the title is more than a place where people discuss books
“It has a pecking order, in which each person has a different role,” Fleming said. “Then a new person comes into the club, who has not been invited and gets Ana, the group leader, very upset.”
Another unusual aspect of this particular book club is that as part of the plot, a crew has come to create a documentary and is videotaping its sessions.
The five books the club members are reading are being read almost in real-time. But, said Fleming, the play references more than 20 books and all but one of them are real. The hardest one to get was “Twilight,” she noted.
One of the show’s challenges is the number of people on stage when Silver Spring’s performance space is relatively small.
“It’s challenging for people not to block each other,” Fleming said. A lot of times the actor overlap in speech as well but that is not unusual for comedy, and sometimes drama, she said.
All the actors have different connections and relationships, and one at least suffers from inappropriate comments by others.
Lena Winter plays Ana, the self-appointed leader of the book club. To her, the club is not just a club. It’s very important to her, like family, and the book club members are also family, Winter said.
“She’s a very smart woman,” said Winter, “but she has an imposter syndrome, which is common in accomplished professional women. It means that everything good that happens to the person is seen by her as a fluke, so she always has a fear of being exposed.”
It’s a term writer Maya Angelou came up with, said Winter. When the new member starts trying to take charge, and Ana starts losing control, it’s a personal crisis for her. How does she see her life after that?
“It’s definitely a challenge since she has no personal life experience,” said Winter. “Ana also puts her foot in her mouth all the time, saying things that don’t come out well. For her, everything about the book club has very high stakes.”
On top of that, each character has a secret, and that’s beginning to impact their relationships.
What Winter finds particularly satisfying about her role is that Anais allowed being “driven.” She has a positive attitude, is a strong leader and very human. Moreover, rarely, the character arc of someone she plays does not revolve around men.
“This is maybe only the second role I’m playing a role like that,” Winter said.
The first was probably Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, in “The Miracle Worker.”
“I’ve done a lot of classical acting, like ‘Romeo and Julie,’” she said.
The balance of the cast consists of Jasmine Jones, Spencer Knoll, Camille Pozderac, Nicholas Bashour, Andy Greenleaf and Caroline Adams.
“The Book Club Play” runs Sept. 20-Oct. 12 at Silver Spring Stage, 10145 Colesville Road at the Woodmoor Shopping Center, Silver Spring. www.ssstage.org.