Sunday, June 19, 2011

Theatre review: "The Book of Liz" from No Name Players. Sunday 19th June 2011

David Sedaris has developed a considerable following for writing and reading his own wry, quirky, off-center observations about seemingly ordinary connections and events in his own life. And his sister Amy has made a name for herself as a performer. Together they’ve written several short plays bound to attract attention given their names and reputations. Included is The Book of Liz which premiered off-Broadway in 2001 to good reviews and which is now being performed in Pittsburgh by No Name Players.

I found the play, clearly resembling David’s perspective and choice of material, quite juvenile. Several performers do as well as can be expected with the script and with director Don DiGiulio’s idea of how to direct it. That’s not a criticism of his direction; there may be a way to improve on the material, but not easily.

You could see the title as a reference to the Old Testament’s Book of Ruth which concerns that woman’s wanderings around the Holy Land in that Sister Elizabeth Donderstock wanders away from a tightly-knit, Amish-like religious community. However there is no attempt to replicate scriptural language or style, which could have been quite clever, but might have meant the Sedaris would have had to work hard, instead of seeming to have dashed this off over Eight O’Clock coffee and Dunkin’ doughnuts.

A major source of income for the group is handmade cheese balls which are sold to outsiders. Pristine hands of course. Perhaps. Somewhat unconventional Liz makes them. When she is replaced by Brother Brightbee at the insistence of patriarch Reverend Tollhouse, she goes out into the world, stands in for a Mr. Peanut life-size puppet, hangs out with a Ukrainian refugee couple and then gets a job at a Pilgrim-themed restaurant staffed by recovering alcoholics. She also frets about sweating too much. Meanwhile Liz never loses her innocence, despite working with gay flamers and ex-drunks and hearing profanity everywhere she turns. She never seems to notice. Or comment.

Note the names of characters including Sister Constance Butterworth. Such imagination!

This kind of stuff could be the basis for something wild but it looks pretty tame to me, especially decorated with lame lines rather than wit. It’s as if the Sedaris s felt observing or replicating such rather marginal situations are inherently funny.

DiGiuglio has everyone but Gayle Pazerski as Elizabeth playing the whole thing broadly. Pazerski does very well keeping the performance straight and simple. But shouldn’t she be funny somehow and fit into the style? Meanwhile Jody O’Donnell gives very able character performances in several roles. On the other hand, Kelly Marie McKenna amateurishly shouts rather than projects many of her lines.

Considering the good reviews the play has gotten elsewhere, it must have worked better there. I just don’t get it. FYI: I did not hear much laughter from several people sitting near me on Friday night. But there were others clearly having a good time. Different strokes.

The Book of Liz continues through June 25th at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre 542 Penn Avenue, downtown. Tickets: ShowClix - 1-888-71-TICKETS 1-888-718-4253

1 comment:

  1. I saw a different performance of this play at the Gough St Theater in San Francisco and I felt the script was dull and mostly unfunny. All the scenes in the "squeamish" community just bored me and went on too long. The scenes outside were only slightly better. It's on par with a first time playwright with no editing. I guess everyone has duds now and then.

    The performances were reasonable. If only it were 30 minutes long instead of 90, I might have enjoyed it more.