Onstage: Summer Getaway

The Book of Liz is an oddball play about getting out and fitting in

Aug 16, 2006 at 2:06 pm

Amy and David Sedaris ("The Talent Family" when they write together) have been called two of the funniest people in America by Entertainment Weekly. I can't disagree with that — I love his sardonic wit and radio monologues, and I'm always amused by the bizarre characters she plays in films. But I had a hard time wrapping my head around The Book of Liz, their co-written play being presented by New Stage Collective this month.

It's about a young woman who is "Squeamish"— a thinly veiled parody of the Amish. Sister Elizabeth Donderstock (Jennifer Owen, animated but narrow in the range of frustration she portrays) feels under-appreciated, despite the fact that the sales of her cheese balls sustain the secluded community of Clusterhaven. She has the hots for Brother Nathaniel Brightbee (Adam Standley) until the sanctimonious the Rev. Tollhouse (Dan Davidson) hands over the cheese-ball operation to him. She departs for the larger world, but through the filter of these playwrights it's as insane as the oddball place she's escaping.

Standley and Davidson play various characters, as does Lindsey Valitchka, most memorable as rubber-faced, motor-mouthed Sister Butterworth, who speaks faster than any character I have ever witnessed onstage. She also plays a Ukrainian refugee with a Cockney accent who makes her living as a roadside Mister Peanut. The three also represent the staff at a fast-food restaurant where everyone dresses in pilgrim attire. Don't ask: It's supposed to be funny and only loosely make sense.

That's part of the problem with The Book of Liz: It feels like a Saturday Night Live skit with a clever concept — but it's 80 minutes long. If you're amused (and some people were laughing out loud the night I attended), you'll love this. If not, you'll be bewildered.

Despite the intimacy of Gabriel's Corner, hearing the actors isn't always easy, and abrupt movement from scene to scene and character to character (despite admirable quick changes of costume and wigs) means that the humor has very little coherence.

It's a good show for summer, but you might leave feeling a little addled. Grade: B-

THE BOOK OF LIZ, presented by New Stage Collective at Gabriel's Corner in Over-the-Rhine, continues through Aug. 26.