Join Our OWEN MEANY Book Club!

June 15, 2017
Natalie Hulla
It’s likely no surprise that theatre fans are also often avid readers. A good story is a good story, after all. This year some of the best stories in the Playhouse season — from A Prayer for Owen Meany and Jane Eyre to Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End — were all inspired by great books.

This season, in partnership with Joseph-Beth Booksellers, the Playhouse is launching a book club for audience members interested in better understanding the process of taking a book from the page to the stage. Playhouse book club participants are invited to attend two special discussion events — one in advance of a production’s run or near its beginning and the other near the end of its run. At the first discussion, we’ll talk about the book itself: the plot and characters, the overarching themes, how you might imagine it translates to a theatrical setting. Our second discussion will take place after you’ve seen the play, to discuss what excited and surprised you and to learn from members of the artistic team how they approached the show.

The club’s inaugural book club selection is John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, the stage adaptation of which opens the 2016-17 Marx Theatre season. Settle in to read this bestselling novel. Then ponder the following questions:

Questions About the Book (for the first discussion)

• How does the novel's first sentence set the tone of the story and your own expectations as a reader for the remainder of the book?

• The story moves back and forth between past and present events, with John Wheelwright narrating this journey. How does this nonlinear structure affect your response to the story?

• Would you consider John a reliable or unreliable narrator? Why is he telling us this story?

• What reasons does Owen have to believe he is an instrument of God? How is this belief reinforced for him throughout the story?

• What is the significance of Owen's two Christmas roles: as the Baby Jesus in the church nativity and as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in Dan's community theatre production of A Christmas Carol? How do they heighten other themes in the book?

• What is the importance of Owen’s voice and the way it is represented in the book? Why is Owen called “The Voice” at Gravesend Academy?

• How does the friendship between John and Owen change as the boys grow older? How do they differ in their ideas about faith? With which point of view do you relate most?

• Political ideas play a signature role in the book, including the escalation of America’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict and John’s feelings about the Reagan administration’s handling of the Iran-Contra affair. In what ways is the historical backdrop integral to the story’s themes? In what ways is the story more universal, transcending that timeline?

• What challenges and opportunities do you see in adapting the book to the stage?

Questions About the Play (for the second discussion)

• How do you feel about the choices the playwright made in condensing the book for the stage? What effect did these choices have on your response to the story?

• Like the book, the play’s story is told nonlinearly. Unlike the book, the play doesn’t have pages of exposition to communicate shifts in the setting. What cues did the director, designers and actors provide to help denote for audiences the changes in time and place? How did the sets, costumes, lighting, sound and other technical elements contribute to the storytelling?

• Reading is a solitary and largely passive activity. Watching theatre is an experience shared with others, and the response of audience members can affect the overall performance. Did your reaction to the story change at all after seeing the play? In what way(s)?

Want to join our conversation? We’ll meet at 7 p.m. at Joseph-Beth Booksellers’ Rookwood location on Monday, Aug. 29, and Monday, Sept. 19. Books can be purchased or ordered through Joseph-Beth. Discussion events are free, but registration is required in advance through the Playhouse Box Office at 513-421-3888.

To learn more about the Playhouse production of A Prayer for Owen Meany, visit the production detail page.