“The Book Women” is a historical fiction play set during the Great Depression. The set and costumes reflect the regional and historical context of the play.

“The Book Women” is a historical fiction play set during the Great Depression. The set and costumes reflect the regional and historical context of the play.

Photo by Emily Erlich

Groves High School concludes season with production of ‘The Book Women’

By: Mary Genson | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published April 15, 2024


BIRMINGHAM — Wylie E. Groves High School is presenting the Michigan premiere of “The Book Women,” by Rachel Bublitz. John W. Rutherford is directing the high school cast and crew for the performances 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 18-Saturday, April 20; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 21.

This historical fiction play is set around the Appalachian Mountains during the Great Depression. The story revolves around four female librarians who ride by horseback to deliver books, magazines, newspapers and other print materials to people who have never had access to these forms of media.

While the characters have been fictionalized, the story is based on real people and real experiences.

“One of the themes is the idea of building community and building communities through education,” Rutherford said.

In addition to bringing books to the communities across the mountain range, these women would bring hope along with them.

“They also, at the same time, saved or captured the culture of the people of the Appalachian Mountains. It became an exchange of ideas and concepts. So these women would bring books, but … they would take back with them recipes, quilt samples, drawings and poetry,” Rutherford said.

Groves High School senior Jai Downing designed and constructed the set of “Book Women.” Downing is planning on pursuing a career in theater design while attending Northern Michigan University.

The set consists of a series of platforms with ramps and stairs, covered in faux rocks and moss. In the background is a structure designed to look like mountains in maroons, pinks and browns.

“We’re trying to really capture Appalachian culture, but incorporating it into the actual scenic elements,” Rutherford said.

The costumes are all designed to be set in 1939 Depression-era Appalachia. The color palette of the costumes are faded and muted earth tones.

Of the large cast and crew, there are many graduating seniors. The cast of “Book Women” consists of 30 students, which is a significantly larger cast than high school plays typically have.

“Even though there are people who are only in one scene, each character, regardless of how big or small, has a very crucial role in showing what the Appalachian culture was in this time. I think the casting decisions were great, and I think everyone really puts their all into making these roles so special,” Groves High School Senior and President of the theater group Laini Seltzer said.

Seltzer is starring as Della “Star” Harlow. Her character is one of the book women who takes a New York Times reporter with her through her trails as he works on a piece about the book women.

“She’s also very passionate and very caring for her work and the people she encounters. I think she’s also very witty, and she has her stories and she has her little quips, but she also gets serious when she needs to,” Seltzer said.

Seltzer emphasizes how this story is about a group of strong women who didn’t get a lot of credit for their hard work.

“It’s all about female empowerment,” Seltzer said.

The role of Della is more serious than roles Seltzer is used to playing.

“I use my passion for theater and reflect that as her passion for this job to really emphasize that this means the world to her, on top of it being a job,” Seltzer said.

Seltzer shared that some of the leads of “Book Women” were given the opportunity by Rutherford to actually go horseback riding and learn how it feels to be riding a horse, which they pretend to do on stage.

“That was such a fun experience not only because we bonded as a cast, but shows that he really cares that much to give us that experience and really put us in a position of these women and make our actual experience as authentic as possible,” Seltzer said.

Tickets for “Book Women” at Groves High School can be purchased at grovesper formingartscompany.ludus.com.