Dodd (A Seed for the Harvest, 2014) tells the story of five men brought together to form an unlikely book club in this Christian three-act play.
Dane is a divorced English teacher with an unpublished novel. When he started a Christian book club for men in the classroom of a church in Columbia, South Carolina, he had no idea what sort of characters might show up. Rett, it turns out, is someone he knows: a garrulous former pastor with whom Dane attended college but who has since undergone a faith journey that he can’t stop talking about. Sam is a veterinarian transplant from England who has trouble picking up on social cues, which is why he’ll happily natter on about the most recent enema he’s performed on a cat. Overweight, 24-year-old Emile doesn’t have a “job-job, like most people,” but rather spends his time on “tabletop fantasy role-play games, like HeroQuest and Feng Shui.” Emile balks at the length of the selected book. Most colorful is Martin, the loquacious and oft-drunk jokester whose wife thinks he’s at the AA meeting down the hall. Dane has his work cut out for him attempting to herd these cats into a functional book club. Martin needles, Rett butts in, Emile complains, and Sam loses the plot. But as the discussion moves to the text and beyond, Dane finds this collection of odd men to be a surprisingly fertile community. Faith, fears, and failing marriages all come up as each man slowly drops his guard and bares his soul.
Dodd excels at the sort of dense, colorful dialogue necessary to sustain a play about a group of men in a room. Each of the five primary characters is so present and alive in their speech that the reader can easily picture them without the need of an actor to embody them. The standouts are Emile, with his halting, slangy utterances, and Martin with his hammy verbiage. The latter gets all the most writerly lines: “Regret is the fuel that drives our desire to get it right the next time. You take away all regret and we end up stumbling through life frying chickens at a KFC.” That isn’t to say that there isn’t some fat in the cross talk that could have been trimmed. Additionally, the fact that the book group is reading Dodd’s previous book, A Seed for the Harvest (“It did win a medal for Christian fiction in some independent publisher book awards last year,” plugs Dane), walks a fine line between metafictional wink and authorial self-indulgence. The Christian angle, while present, is not as heavy-handed as one might expect, and there are some thoughtful discussions on the nature of faith even if they end up in predictable places. It’s the character dynamics that really keep the reader turning the pages, however.
A thoughtful, funny play about men from a Christian perspective.