Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Reading Under The Influence: Best Watched the Same Way

I found plenty to both like and dislike in the new play, Reading Under The Influence, premiering at the DR2 Theater.   However, the audience reaction was unequivocally positive.  It is a play about a women’s book club, with a nearly all female cast and the audience I saw it with was overwhelmingly female.  The material must be much more relatable to women than it was to me.  It isn’t a caveat I normally bring up, but there was an obvious difference between the reactions of the audience based on sex.
Photo by Orlando Behar; Ashley Austin Morris,
Barbara Walsh, and Summer Crockett Moore

There is a lot to enjoy in this new play, by Tony Glazer.  There is some sharp writing and quick wit on display by the actresses, but it was inconsistent, sometimes flowing naturally and sometimes a stretch.  It would probably play better as a TV episode or short film – as it would benefit from some well thought out editing.

Reading Under The Influence is the story of four friends and their  fictional Westchester Women’s Book Club.  It follows what happens when the broadcast rights are sold to reality TV.  Jocelyn, played by Joana Bayless, is the organizer of the book club and instigator of selling the broadcast rights.  On this particular night, she attempts to manage a focused discussion of the week’s book; but the discussion immediately veers off on tangents, much to her annoyance, although it seems to be the common trajectory of the meeting.

Summer Crockett Moore, is Sara, the first woman to arrive, and the first woman Joan breaks the news to.  Sara is an overly protective mom and frustrated actress – and she first voices the argument of the evening – Jocelyn is essentially selling the club and its members.

Barbara Walsh plays Megan, a woman of acid wit on her second marriage, with a wonderful panache. The fourth member of the club is Kerry, a slightly loopy new agey wife that seems oddly out of place in the group.  Ashley Austin Morris, channeling her inner Jenifer Tilly, plays Kerry broadly.

The women’s angst over the TV rights sale mingles with their old annoyances  - and boils over as they consume more and more white wine.  The piece implies that women need to drink before opening up in honest emotion, which I found a little demeaning.  But the audience of women laughing seems to disagree with me. 

The play requires some quick timing to feel organic, and this cast hasn’t gelled to the level yet.  The direction sputters at times, and works seamlessly in other phases.

It is not a play I would recommend, but I have to say that the audience of women I saw it with though it was a hoot and a half.  If it sounds interesting to you, by all means round up some girlfriends and go enjoy yourselves.
Reading Under The Influence (Website)
Playwright:  Tony Glazer
Director: Wendy Goldberg
Cast: Barbara Walsh, Joanna Bayless, Summer Crockett Moore, Ashley Austin Morris, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Jeremy Webb

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