Theatre Review: The Book of Liz by Amy & David Sedaris

Directed by Don DiGiulio. No Name Players, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. June 10 through June 25, 2011. Featuring Allison Fatla, John Feightner, Kelly Marie McKenna, Jody O’Donnell, and Gayle Pazerski. Stage Managing by Dave Ranallo. Technical Direction by Nick Coppula. Scenic Design by Alanna James. Sound Design by Brad Stephenson. Costume Design by Mandi Fisher.

The Book of Liz is quite silly, really, but a lot of fun. It’s the story of Sister Elizabeth Donderstock, a Squeamish—the fictional religious sect akin to the Amish—who leaves the safe fortress of her village, Clusterhaven. Within those walls she is infamous, but grossly underappreciated, for both her humorous spirit and the cheese balls she painstakingly makes every day in two varieties: smoky and traditional. Whtin the frame of 90 minutes, Elizabeth sets out on her journey away from the village and to the city, on her quest for self and freedom. Along the way, she befriends a Ukrainian woman dressed as a peanut and becomes a waitress at a Pilgrim-themed pancake house. Meanwhile, life completely falls apart back in Clusterhaven without her.

The show’s book does not disappoint. We’ve come to expect nothing less than genius from the comedically raucous Sedaris siblings—Amy, star of Strangers with Candy, and David, National Public Radio humorist and best-selling author of Naked and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. Within the ridiculous surface of the script, however, there lies the enduring truths of the human spirit, truths the No Name Players were especially adept at bringing to light.

The cast is lead by Gayle Pazerski as Elizabeth, a role she portrays stunningly. Pazerski brings a contemplative and understated humor to the stage; had the role been given to a less skilled actor, one who may fall to the temptation of taking on the role as an over-the-top caricature, the show would be decidedly less successful. Pazerski, however, leads with measured grace and opens the door for a solid cast of character actors playing multiple roles well. The affect reminds one of a Christopher Guest film, a shorter Mighty Wind, perhaps. In the world of comedic performance, I can think of few higher comparisons.

As her journey nears an end, Sister Elizabeth asks her village leader “Why is it, old friend, that I had to dress like a peanut in order to feel like a human again?” Yes, The Book of Liz is quite silly, really. But maybe we’re all, like Elizabeth, seeking what it takes to be human, and further, maybe—nay, definitely—what we need is to sit back in the dark of a theatre for a couple of hours and just laugh.

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Filed under: Prose, Reviews: Performing Arts