Reading Under the Influence: The “Real” Westchester Women’s Book Club
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
April 13, 2011
One part farce, one part fantasy, and three parts wacky send-up, bordering on situation comedy—that’s the high and the low of Tony Glazer’s comedic trifle, Reading Under the Influence, at DR2. It is light fare with style, and doesn’t mean to be more than an entertaining evening. On this score it delivers.
The premise is a book club that meets weekly in the Westchester home of founder Jocelyn Anders, a monied matron in her 50s, devoted to her rules and the sound of her own voice. The unlikely group members include Sara, in her 30s and a former actress and mother of two challenging children; Megan Goldstein, around 40 and a recent Jewish convert whose commitment is questionable; and Kerry, a bohemian in her 20s, who has pierced or otherwise bedazzled her genitalia. When the play opens, Jocelyn is setting out nibbles, and the wine is uncorked ready for considerable consumption. The women arrive one by one to discuss this week’s selection, “The Homeless Dogs of Egypt.” However, Jocelyn, eager for a larger audience, has a surprise for the group. Under the counsel of her lawyer, she has sold the rights to their club to a reality TV production company. The producer and director are expected that evening.
Very little in the premise of this set-up is credible. Not the mix of women, not the book selection, not the group’s two-year tolerance of Jocelyn’s dogmatic rules, nor the selling of the rights. Still, the dialogue flows as easily as the wine, and the physical humor along with the one-liners are enough to keep one wondering how this crazy mix will resolve in Act II.
As in any farce, Reading Under the Influence dissolves into chaos. The set-up begins with the casting: a blonde, a brunette, a redhead, and a wacko. Joanna Bayless, the blonde, sets up Jocelyn nicely for the crash with her tightly-wrapped, domineering veneer. Ashley Austin Morris, the whack job, provides the trigger as the curdled-voice Kerry, the bejeweled dodo, who knows no social boundaries and repeatedly interrupts the order of things with questions—that actually matter. Add Summer Crockett Moore, the redheaded Sara, to push Jocelyn into confessing her scheme to the group before they discuss the book, and Barbara Walsh, the brunette, who threatens Jocelyn with a lawyer of her own. Like the play, their performances push beyond credibility. Under the direction of Wendy C. Goldberg, the actors reach for broad humor that’s not ineffective, but not complete farce either. Still, the actors are thorough and consistent in maintaining their characters. Rounding out the cast are Jeremy Webb, as the director who can’t resist capturing the chaos on camera, and Maria-Christina Oliveras, the very excellent producer, who, in her understated, no-nonsense way, commands the room.
The visuals are delightful and fit the tone of the play. Alexander Dodge has designed a set as appealing as a parfait—lusciously crème de menthe–colored walls (a result of Raquel Davis’s beautiful lighting) accenting a room with all white furniture. Anne Kennedy’s costumes supply splashes of bold color in Jocelyn’s hot pink blazer and Sara’s kelly green jacket, with a touch of whimsy in Kerry’s drapey knit dress and her plethora of necklaces.
While Reading Under the Influence may not spark many fires, it works very well as an ensemble piece. The script, performances, and design elements work together nicely, accomplishing what Tony Glazer must have intended it to do—entertain.