THE BOOK OF LIZ is squeamish to the nth degree

(Left)Marie O'Donnell as Liz, Stephen Pawley as Rev Tollhouse, Tavis Kammet as Brother Brightbee

(Right)Allison Page as Yolanda Foxley


THE BOOK OF LIZ: A satirical Farce by The Talent Family of David and Amy Sedaris. Directed by Gabriel A. Ross. Custom Made Theatre (CMTC), The Gough Street Playhouse (formerly The Next Stage), attached to the historic Trinity Church, 1620 Gough Street (at Bush), San Francisco. (510) 207-5774 or Extended through August 21, 2011.

THE BOOK OF LIZ is squeamish to the nth degree.

Never having heard of or seen a play by David and Amy Sedaris, attending CMTC’s production of The Book of Liz was a shock and an education. The authors are known for their quirky, inane and cutting humor at the expense of hapless characters. Fortunately the play is only 90 minutes long without intermission and more than one in the audience were squirming in their seats. But we were in the minority. An almost full house gobbled up the slapstick humor and the four cast members, handling 15 different parts played their hearts out and deserve accolades.

It is the story of Sister Elizabeth Donderstock, known as Liz (Marie O’Donnell) who is a Sqeamish (think Amish) who makes wonderful traditional and smoky cheese balls for the Cluster Haven community. The proceeds from their sale support the entire community. Reverend Tollhouse (Stephen Pawley) and Sister Constance Butterworth (Allison Page) are critical of her liberal philosophy and have removed her from the yearly Chastity Parade float dedicated to the “dangers of casual glancing.” Horror of Horrors, visiting Brother Brightbee (Tavis Kammet) takes over the baking chores after demanding Liz’s famous recipe. What’s a girl to do after such rejection? Hit the road, of course, and discover the pleasures (??) of the outside world.

On her Candide type journey she meets Mr. Peanuts, is taken in by a refuge Ukrainian couple with cockney accents who used to be professional cat-declawers. To explain their Cockney accents, the Sedaris’ explain that on the boat from the Ukraine they learned English from a Cockney teacher. She then lands a job as waitress in the Plymouth Crock Restaurant (serving Pilgrim food such as English muffins) that hires only recovered alcoholics. One of the non-alcoholics rightly observes, “If you sober up an asshole . . . you end up with sober assholes!” She also learns that homosexuals are the scourges of yard sales. Funny, huh?

Complications arise that involves her hyperhidrosis (for the non-medical among us, that’s excessive sweating) but she is still offered a promotion to manager. Alas, her prudery will not allow her to get undressed for a physical exam and never to wear a mini skirt that would display her thighs and legs! The employees and the customers love Liz and she is offered a promotion to manager. However, complications set in which I won’t discuss but it involves “sweating.”

Back at the ranch, sorry Cluster Haven, they cannot duplicate Liz’s tasty recipe and are almost ready for Chapter 11, or is that Chapter 7, or maybe the unlucky Chapter 13 bankruptcy since there are 13 scenes? Liz returns and the special ingredient that made her cheese balls so tasty is discovered and everyone lives happily ever after. (There is a recipe for Amy Sedaris' Li’l Smokey Cheeseballs in the program with the secret ingredient missing.)

The 13 scenes are separated with blackouts allowing multiple costume changes, and enough slapstick for a plethora of shows. Marie O’Donnell’s cheerful attitude as the much put upon Liz is admirable even though the laughs are few and far between. Stephen Pawely is one of my favorite actors and he does not disappoint. In the opening scene, as Reverend Tollhouse, his complimentary prayer to God is a gem as he praises himself rather than the Creator. There are many individual vignettes that are handled adroitly by Allison Page and Tavis Kammet but none is hardly memorable. The scene changes do not flow smoothly but the four actors do justice to this zany, madcap, wacky etc satirical farce that is attracting full audiences. Is this a reflection on San Francisco?

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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