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Reading Under the Influence

This new play about a book club being filmed for reality television is full of smart dialogue and fine performances.

Ashley Austin Morris, Barbara Walsh, and
Summer Crockett Moore in Reading Under the Influence
(© Orlando Behar)
The drinks flow as smoothly as the smart dialogue in Tony Glazer's Reading Under the Influence: The "Real" Westchester Women's Book Club, now playing at Union Square's DR2 Theatre.

Here, we meet the four women of the Westchester Book Club as they prepare to discuss their latest assignment, The Homeless Dogs of Egypt. Throughout the zany discourse, these women of very contrasting sensibilities and varying ages -- Kerry (Ashley Austin Morris), Megan (Barbara Walsh), Jocelyn (Joanne Bayless), and Sara (Summer Crocket Moore) -- come to terms with the fact that the rights to their book club have been sold to a reality TV production company.

Glazer immediately characterizes his women through their tones, attire, and dropped snippets about their backgrounds. No time is wasted in getting the audience familiarized with their eccentricities, leaving more room for Glazer's fast-moving jokes and high-jinks. Indeed, very little reading or discussion of any books actually occurs, much to the pleasure of the audience. The play is more concerned with the women's interactions as they pick at one another's marriages, "special" children, and religions.

Act II also features yet another ball for the women to toss with the addition of a video camera. (The cameraman, the sole male character, is played by Jeremy Webb.) Glazer deftly touches on the societal obsession with celebrity and the unrealism that is "reality" television as some of his characters try to transform themselves for the camera.

The play seems to open subplots at quite a few turns, and some end up being ignored or glossed over. For example, one of the women announces her bi-sexuality to big response from the room, but the news quickly gets lost as the women move on to other ditties. The show's ending is also somewhat weak.

Fortunately, director Wendy C. Goldberg brings out the best in much of her cast. As the ditzy hippie Kerry, Morris steals the show at every turn with her strong comedic timing and a gift for physical humor, Walsh delivers Megan's crude zingers with incredible zeal; it's worth seeing the play for no other reason than to hear her explain what it means to be "vajewzzeled." Moore takes Sara's quirks to a newer and funnier level as the evening wears on. On the down side, Bayless seems to be uncomfortable on the stage, never quite finding her footing, and Webb isn't as funny as he needs to be.

Nevertheless, if ever there was a book club to join, this is the one.