Books on Tape
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
August 18, 2011
Just how much do people need stories to make their lives interesting? Don't be afraid to find out in Books on Tape.
Adriane loves audiobooks so much that the night she lets Jeffrey pick her up in Barnes and Noble, she wants to listen to a romantic seduction scene to get her in the mood for the real thing. Jeffrey, who is a frustrated actor making a living recording audiobooks, is weirded out. Adriane is willing to compromise; could Jeffrey instead narrate their sex scene, but only in the third person, past perfect tense, active voice? Tense is definitely the word for it.
Adriane next wanders into an alternative church, where the divine need for jello wrestling and wiener eating is revealed (and there are audiobooks to prepare you for worship activities and "Potluck with the flock"). Adriane wants meaning in her life, but she wants to act out the plot of The Thorn Birds more, and prepares to seduce Father Larry.
Here is where the commentary gets thick. Father Larry is not a priest but a Columbia University Ph.D. student who created a fake religion to research the desperate needs of the masses to have someone tell them a story. The more unrealistic, the better, especially for Adriane. At the same time, Jeffrey has met Donna Paige Miller, the ultimate dominating woman. She writes self-help books, such as "All Men Are Jerks (Even Your Father)." Just like Father Larry, she saw the demand for such writing. But is there perhaps a repellent smugness in this position? Is there really such a thing as originality? Are the likes of Adriane and Jeffrey happier in the long run?
These are all hard questions (whether or not you were ever an English major). Fortunately, playwright William Missouri Downs has given us a well-balanced tale. When I saw the show, the audience was particularly receptive to Dostoyevsky jokes and Jane Austen parody. Let's face it, there are more ways to escape from the "real world" than ever before, and we should take a moment to look at what this is doing to us.
Director Brock H. Hill has made desperate into funny. Jake Lipman (Adriane) is as charming as she is needy. Nate Washburn (Jeffrey) is amusing, as even as an actor he cannot play along with the absurdity of his lovers. Geoffrey J.D. Payne (Father Larry) is convincing as the ultimate yes-man. Shana Wiersum's Donna Page Miller is so self-centered she is ready to sue Kitty Kelley for writing her unauthorized biography—hysterical! If you're going to see a play as a sort of escape (perhaps the majority of plays could be described as this) you will get more than you bargained for here.