Regional Reviews: San Francisco
The Book of Liz is a Delightful
Also see Richard's review of Senior Class
Producers Ryan Clifford and Christopher Jenkins, who were responsible for bringing Hedwig and the Angry Inch to San Francisco, are now presenting the California premiere of the Off Broadway farce, David and Amy Sedaris's The Book of Liz at the Shelton Theatre. The Book of Liz opened at the Greenwich House Theatre in New York on March 26, 2001, and ran through June 1, 2001. The New York Times described it as "a delightfully off-key, off color hymn to clichés we all live by, whether we know it or not." Broadway.com called it "laugh out loud funny." I agree with both of these statements. The four actors involved with this production are screamingly funny, and they have the timing down perfect.
The comedy tells the story of Sister Elizabeth Donderstock (Danielle O'Hare), or Liz for short. She is Squeamish (a take off on Amish). Liz makes wonderful traditional and smoky cheeseballs that she sells to the outside world to sustain the entire Squeamish community, Clusterhaven. However, Reverend Tollhouse (Joel Bischoff) and Sister Constance Butterworth (Thessaly Lerner) are constantly giving her a hard time for her "liberal" thinking. To make matters worse, the Reverend assigns Brother Brightbee (Sam Shaw), a newcomer to the flock, to do all of the cooking chores. Liz feels this is the last straw, so she decides to hit the road and experience life in the outside world.
Along the way she meets Mr. Peanut, who looks like a fugitive from Beach Blanket Babylon. Mr. Peanut turns out to be a Cockney speaking Ukrainian woman (Thessaly Lerner), an illegal immigrant living with her Ukrainian husband Yvon (Sam Shaw) who also speaks with a Cockney dialect. They explain that on the boat over to the states, their English teacher was Cockney, hence the accent. I told you this was farce. They invite her to share their trailer.
Liz lands a job as a waitress in a tri state chain restaurant called "The Plymouth Crock" where they serve pilgrim food like English muffins to tourist. The family type restaurant is run almost entirely by recovering alcoholics, including the manager Duncan (Joel Bischoff). 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."
Liz returns home and confronts those brothers and sisters who held her back. She finds the special ingredient that made her cheeseballs famous and everything turns out fine in the end. As an extra bonus for the audience, there is a recipe for Amy Sedaris's Li'l Smokey Cheeseballs in the program. The secret ingredient is left up to you.
The Book of Liz is not as scathing as Christopher Durang's plays, but it is a fast paced extended "Saturday Night Live" sketch performed by four very good comic actors. Thessaly Lerner is uproarious as she plays six persons and she nails down every one of these characters. She is especially good as the effervescent Sister Butterworth with her Gilda Radner Rosanne Rosanna Danna voice. Danielle O'Hara is excellent as Liz as she delivers a charming, perspiring portrait of a naïveté in the outside world. Joel Bischoff is particularly good as the fey manager of the chain restaurant, and Sam Shaw easily switches from the pushy Brightbee to the wild, bug-eyed Ukrainian Yvon who is reminiscent of the late Marty Feldman.
Director Laura E Woods keeps the comedy moving at fast pace with no let up on comic moments. The comedy will continue at the Shelton Theatre, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco through November 30. For tickets call 415-273-4115 or visit www.unidentifiedtheatre.org.