Activity Club 1: The Perils (and Joys) of Playreading Club

My alter ego has always been Max Fischer from the movie Rushmore. I know I’m not the only one who loves a good club/themed party. (It seems likely he too had ADHD no?). Instead of traveling internationally as some are now or dreaming of being transported into alternate universes via portals like my five year old, I like daydreaming of fun social gatherings. Below I write of my beloved Playreading Club and why I hope it continues in person soon.

My Cousin Judy, who is around 97, has had a play reading club for decades. Her group has read plays out loud at boozy, food-focused meetings–taking away the pretention/awkwardness of discussing things like themes and symbolism. When she told me of her club, I resolved to copy her group and I did. Gone was the anxiety of reading in advance of the club date! Gone is the worry that you will have nothing but a playback of the NY Times Book Review to contribute!

Not sure how you feel about book clubs but they are the bane of my existence. Even a naked book club could not compel me. (In my twenties, I roomed with a friend who was a regular participant in a naked book club and participated with a young, hot guy friend who is now a well-known politician. They read Moby Dick.). My main issue is I don’t like to read most other peoples’ book picks, which may come from the unbearable hours spent reading prescribed books in school. Ethan Frome, The Canterbury Tales and egads, Midsummer’s Night’s Dream come to mind.

When I asked my neighbor, an Israeli stay at home mom to join my club a while back she shrunk visibly and said “um, that’s outside my comfort zone.” I understood her completely. I too have never been theatrical–my only stage debuts include a deaf and mute character in a fourth grade play and Fardles the bear in another grade school play. But our group has been memorable and often jubilant because of the random mix of friends who participate whom are drawn from different corners of my life-some who read their lines like me (timid and without much feeling) or ones who could outshine Sir Lawrence Olivier with their cadences and facial expressions.

None of us really know plays so it’s a dartboard-style selection process. So far we have read A Long Days Journey Into Night, Angels in America, The Glass Menagerie, August Osage County, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Fefu and Her Friends and others as we argued about race, class and everything in between over Korean wings, wine or other fare. It’s difficult to divine which guest will be a natural thespien and which one will read their lines like me, rushed and self-conscious. One regular who is a former district attorney is a wonderful performer with an entertaining knack for accents and hyperbole. She really hits her stride the nuttier a character is.

While reading August Osage County, two of my friends, one Caucasian and one Black, argued about whether the nutty mother was “white trash” (yes, i know, an offensive term)-a conversation, which lead to a broader discussion about race and class. When the night was over, one friend texted me, still upset at my friend who’d argued with her. Whereas my other friend enjoyed the exchange of different ideas. Despite the awkward silences and angry exchange, we survived a discussion of race, and I’d argue, that seems like an evening well spent on its own.

And we’ve had some minor intrigues. One time, my friend let’s call her Layla brought two friends of hers-a married couple to join us. David was a classical musician, bald and unassuming. Selby was Asian, short and the type of woman who wears Hush Puppies exclusively. The thing I remember was the husband’s tremulous but nuanced performance of Roy Cohn in Angels in America. As we drank bottles of wine for hours cramming in most of the play in one evening, this guy inhabited his role with such skill, we wanted to give him a standing ovation each time he opened his mouth. And he was not an actor. His wife, a mere shadow of him, was afraid to let loose among mostly strangers, which I appreciated.

David and Selby attended twice and then never graced my table again. We, no doubt missed our only male participant David, particularly during plays like Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf; the hostile husband and wife roles were hard to distinguish as we ladies yelled at each other across the table.

Many months passed and my friend Layla told me her friend Selby was not speaking to her. Apparently Selby was upset that Layla had asked David to come to a subsequent play-reading club and not directly invited her, which befuddled my friend as she considers herself equal friends to David and Selby. So enraged, Selby forbade David from coming to our play-reading club. Admittedly, it exhilarated me that my little club could be the basis of a marital standoff! I found it amusing that a wife could wield such power over her husband. (I smile thinking of myself telling my own husband he cannot go to the biannual record sale at the ARChive of Contemporary Music for example). Lately I keep hearing of these women exerting this type of power over the activities of their husbands. My endocrinologist recently told me his ex wife when he was married to her forbade him and his kids from seeing his own family during the whole 20 year marriage and now that they are divorced, he joyfully sees his family. Wowsers.

My other thought after hearing how David was forbidden to attend my play reading club: Jesus, let the poor guy sit at my dining room table with its stained tablecloths and eat some wings!!

We meet once every few months and rotate through peoples’ apartments for the venue and when we volunteer to host it, we provide the food and the others bring the alcohol. We have four or five core members but invite a mix of people, which keeps it lively. It’s a fun chance to see the homes of people some whom are basically strangers and make new connections. Try it or join ours when we hopefully reconvene.

Grade for this activity: A.

Two friends of mine who are regular club members

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