The Toronto Irish Players bring the comedy of book club meetings to the Alumnae Theatre stage with Bookworms
To me, the idea of women inviting their husbands to a meeting of their book club is both intriguing and hilarious. Luckily, playwright Bernard Farrell wrote a play based on this very premise – and although it is undoubtedly a comedy, it can also be considered an in-depth character study. The Toronto Irish Players opened their 40th season last night with Bookworms, which is now playing at the Alumnae Theatre.
Set in a recession-ravaged Dublin, Bookworms takes place in the home of Ann and Larry, who on this particular evening are acting as hosts for Ann’s book club. However, this time the women’s respective husbands are also invited to participate, with disastrous results. It’s shows of this type that tend to be my favourite – a single location where characters are forced to co-exist, and end up revealing more about themselves than they’d prefer.
The results are typically hilarious and awkward, as evidenced in similar shows such as God of Carnage and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Bernard Farrell’s Bookworms is no exception. Along with the obvious battle of the sexes that takes place, this play manages to go deeper, offering insight into the human condition and displaying how different people behave in social situations. The strength of the script is what carries the show.
This production is not without its flaws, however. With pacing that lagged in the second half of the show, I also felt there was a lot of inconsistencies in regards to the performances. In the cast of seven, four actors spoke with an Irish dialect, while three did not. I found this to be jarring in terms of the rhythm of the play. And the dialects that were being used ranged from extremely thick to extremely spotty where only certain lines were delivered with said dialect.
I think this production would’ve have benefitted from having a consensus on the use of an accent. Everyone one uses one or nobody does. All or nothing. While it’s more faithful to the source material to use a dialect, I would have been more forgiving if none of the cast used dialects instead of splitting it down the middle.
I also felt the casting of Shane Flynn as Larry was a bit of an odd choice, as he seems far too young to be playing the role. As a result, he had to “play” old, which is a hard sell. But he does a commendable job at doing so, to the extent that he was my favourite character in the play. As a reluctant participant in the book club, his character acts very much as the voice of reason and his quips provide much of the play’s most humorous moments.
Also of note was Maureen Lukie, who plays Dorothy, a widowed book club member. Her characterization of Dorothy was spot on, and reminded me of several people I’ve met at similar social gatherings.
Setting those elements aside, the Toronto Irish Players production of Bookworms does have its moments. As mentioned earlier, its strength is its script. Its humour and insight helps mask some of the technical faults of the play.
Showtimes: Thursday-Saturday 8pm, Sundays 2pm.
Tickets are available online for $21 at torontoirishplayers.com or by phone for $20 at (416) 440-2888 (seniors and student tickets are $18)