David and Amy Sedaris make a potent sibling comedy duo; keen observers of the human condition, both are delightfully self-deprecating and highly capable of combining reality and fantasy in a way that triggers the laughs. The Book of Liz is their foray into collaborative playwriting, and it is full of the silliness and wit we have come to expect from their slightly perverse, endearingly neurotic minds.
Spontaneous Productions is thrilled to continue Boise's love affair with anything Sedaris (David has appeared at speaking engagements twice in the last few years and Boise Contemporary Theater produced David Sedaris' The Santaland Diaries last winter). For a community theater, it is a big honor to be staging a play by two demi-gods of comedy and the Sedaris name was enough to attract both a director and a handful of actors who are new to Spontaneous Productions' stage.
The Book of Liz is the story of Sister Elizabeth Donderstock, an innocent, provincial Amish woman whose life revolves around organizing the chastity parade and slaving away in the kitchen over her famous, irresistible cheeseballs. Liz admits that cheeseballs are her whole life (apart from God) and that she may well spend her whole life trying to unravel the mysteries of Gouda. Distressed by such thoughts, Liz begins to dream of leaving her routine, mundane life and one day finds the courage to slip away into the big, bad, un-Amish world.
The brilliance of the play lies in the fact that none of the circumstances in the play are entirely plausible, nor are they entirely ridiculous. Liz makes her first friend and earns her first dollar when Oxana, a woman paid to dress up as a peanut and wave at cars, needs a temporary stand-in. Oxana takes Liz home and Oxana's husband recommends Liz find work in a restaurant named Plymouth Crock, where her everyday puritanical dress matches the restaurant's uniforms. She quickly earns the respect of her co-workers, who incorrectly assume she is one of them--a woman in "the program" whose profuse sweating must surely be due to her recent sobriety.
There aren't any earth-shattering developments in the course of the play other than Liz's eventual return to her Amish nest, where she is newly appreciated--due to the near financial ruin of the community because of its failure to replicate her cheeseballs. The entertainment value of the play rests almost entirely on rich characterization and clever writing. Reverend Tollhouse is described as having been born with a wooden spoon in his mouth, fighting to get the splinters out of his tongue; Liz traumatically recalls having been called "Soakahontas" growing up due to her perspiration problem, and the Plymouth Crock manager tries to convince Liz that new, more revealing uniforms are necessary because studies prove that showing a little leg increases the appetite for bacon. Such droll dialogue is funny in and of itself and many of the actors in this production deliver their lines with signature Sedaris dryness. Unfortunately, this dryness borders on brittleness, and much of the production feels stiff and understated.
Such staidness combined with a lack of imagination in both the staging and set design, make for a slightly disappointing production that, in spite of its short running time (75 minutes), occasionally drags. A few cast members standout in their performances--mainly Linda Allen as goodie-goodie Sister Elizabeth Donderstock, Kenny Roeper as the sensitive Duncan Trask and Lora Vokert who plays three roles, the most outstanding of which is Oxana, the Ukrainian with an Australian accent. But much of the acting comes off as too much or too little and the timing is off-kilter so that many lines that should be gut busters go by without much fanfare.
It's not that the production isn't worth seeing, it's just that anything with the Sedaris name attached to it garners such huge expectations. Here's a recommendation: gather a group of your nearest and dearest to pack the intimate house so the energy level is forced upwards, the pace is snappier and everyone is free to laugh as long and hard as they wish. Sometimes a raucous comedy just needs a raucous audience.
The Book of Liz by David and Amy Sedaris, directed by Michele Hendryx
8 p.m. December 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11
$10, Spontaneous Productions, 1011 Williams St. (Broadway and Boise Ave.)
Tickets at Ticketweb or www.sponprod.com.