ArtsTheatre

Meredith Taylor-Parry’s audience-pleasing Book Club returns to Lunchbox Theatre with The Next Chapter

Back in February of 2016, Lunchbox Theatre introduced us to Book Club, playwright Meredith Taylor-Parry’s fun and insightful play about the lives of characters Lisa, Kathy, Ellen and Jenny which proved to be quite a hit with audiences. Now, two seasons later, Taylor-Parry revisits this group with Book Club II: The Next Chapter, featuring the original cast and picking up the story a few years later, seeing some changes and new twists in the characters’ lives.

Anna Cummer, who plays Ellen, is excited to bring the continuation of the story to audiences. “A lot of the characters have gone through sort of paradigm shifts that we experienced in the first show, so I think it will be fun for people that saw the original to be able to go “Oh my god! This person has done this!” or “This is how that event has influenced their life now…’ ”

In the previous chapter of Book Club, Cummer’s character was trying hard to be “super mom,” and in her quest for parenting perfection managed to alienate a lot of her friends. Now, further on, we find that Ellen has undergone a bit of a change.

“So the real shift for her at the end of the last show was that maybe it’s OK to not have the children in every single thing, and maybe it’s OK that she’s not helicopter parenting the entire time,” says Cummer. “This time around she’s way more relaxed. Ellen is still very precise, very type A, but there’s been a loosening in her ethos.”

Kathy, played by Kira Bradley, finds herself now with two very young children, extremely busy, and a bit behind all of her friends in the parenting timeline. According to Cummer, the characters with older children are now dealing with questions of self-identity.

“I think the whole point of this (storyline) is, what happens after the kids are all in school and you have to rediscover who you are as a person?” she says. “Not just as a parent, but as a person and as a partner to your husband or your wife or your spouse, whomever that person is, and the kind of pitfalls that you find when you’ve been dedicating your life solely to the rearing of children. All of a sudden that’s gone and you have to rediscover yourself again.”

The characters and the storylines work because they are people and situations that everyone as a parent or anyone who has friends that are parents can relate to, with the playwright using her own experiences as a mother to create a fun, relatable play.

“A lot of this is ripped right from reality,” says Cummer. “There are conversations that (Taylor-Parry) has actually had with her husband, conversations that she has had with her friends, or stories that you hear and I think that’s what’s really nice for audience members is that it does feel like a slice of life, because it actually is.

“It’s fun, too, because these experiences are strangely universal. We workshopped (the play) in June and that was such a gift, because there were moments when there would be this very specific story, and all of us would go ‘Oh my god, yeah! Here’s my version of this …’ So it’s really universally understood, which is what’s super fun about it.”

The play also delves into more personal, adult relationships, with the character of Lisa, played by Cheryl Hutton, having a marriage crisis which requires her friends to rally around her to help figure things out.

Cummer explains: “It’s interesting for the Book Club dynamic because Lisa’s usually the rock, and the rock is beginning to crumble. The rest of us are kind of these satellites that are whizzing around, trying to contain this potential complete combustion, so that’s where a lot of the comedy comes from. But there’s also a lot of poignant moments as well – the realization that you can’t give up on the person that you’ve created life with, that you will always be intrinsically tied to because you share children. And even though we go through rough patches in marriages, sometimes it’s important to try to work them out, not only for yourself … for your loved one, but for the kids that are involved as well.”

This chapter of Book Club introduces some actual testosterone into the mix. Curt Mckinstry plays “Everyman,” (“Literally,” Cummer says, “every man”) portraying Lisa’s husband, a server at a bar, a past love interest and, well, a creepy guy. The introduction of this male presence works well with both the cast dynamics and the audience’s ability to relate to the characters.

Yet despite not having a male figure in the last play, the story still spoke to everyone, including the men in the audience who recognized their partners or situations depicted onstage. “I think a lot of dads or a lot of people who were in marriages recognize the verisimilitude of the piece,” insists Cummer, “But I think this time they’re going to be even more connected because there is a physical male representation for them and they can make that connection.

“The nice thing about Meredith, our playwright, is that it’s not about male bashing. She presents an argument and then she presents the rebuttal to that argument and leaves it to the audience to go, ‘Oh! Well, that’s interesting. So there are two sides to this story,’ and I think that also opens it up for everybody to enjoy.”

If you missed the first chapter of Book Club last year, not to worry – Cummer insists that it won’t affect your understanding or enjoyment of this chapter in the least. She also encourages family viewings.

“Bring your moms, bring your husbands, bring your kids, it’s that kind of a show … You’ll have your lunch together, you laugh, you cry, you go, ‘Wow I’m really lucky that I have you in my life!’ and then you go back to work.”

Perfect.

Book Club II: The Next Chapter runs until Oct. 7 at Lunchbox Theatre, check their website for info.

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at kari@theyyscene.ca.

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