Incoherent

By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  July 2, 2007
medy is to David’s subtle and ironic NPR life lessons what a slapstick is to a scalpel: the subjects don’t get incisive treatment, they get whapped upside the head.
 
Representing all that’s mindlessly wrong with America is an Amish-esque religious community called the Squeamish. The Reverend Tollhouse (Mick Jones) is in charge, and his primary job seems to be insulting and taking for granted Sister Elizabeth Donderstock (Dorisa Boggs), the Liz of the title. In fact, Liz is the foundation upon which the community’s entire, very successful commercial enterprise rests. The Benedictines have their brandy, the Shakers have their furniture, and the Squeamish have their cheese balls, both traditional and smoky. Liz has the recipe, “under my bonnet,” never written down.
 
Well, the Reverend instructs her to write it down and hand it over to Brother Nathaniel Brightbe (George Billings), a new member he has taken a liking to. Brightbe is put in charge of the kitchen and Liz is banished to the Clusterhaven chive patch to learn humility.
 
She runs away instead, an event not noticed at Clusterhaven for a couple of weeks. Signaling the bizarreness of the outside world, the first person she encounters on the road is dressed in a peanut costume, advertising to passersby who throw at her things like breakfast burritos (which to the experience-bereft Liz could be small burros). Oxana (Lindsey Meyers) is Ukrainian, but she and her husband Yvone (Kevin Broccoli) have cockney accents, because they were taught English by a former chimney sweep. (Liz’s thinking that this is what Ukrainians sound like wonderfully represents her cluelessness.)
 
Such colorful characters are here for amusing decoration rather than development, so before long Liz is waitressing at a Pilgrim-themed chain restaurant called the Plymouth Crock, her black-and-white garb fitting right in. Her co-workers are quite a co-dependent lot, all recovering alcoholics on some 12-step rung or other. They all resent their meaningless work, which has them shilling such edible tourist souvenirs as Williamsburgers and We-Hate-the-English Muffins. (Filling various roles are Jay Miscia and Lisa Miscia.)
 
Liz’s smarts serve her well, so before long she is up for a job as manager. However, there’s the matter of her sweating like a stevedore — which supposedly isn’t a worse handicap when she is actually serving people food. The dripping Liz goes to a doctor to fix the problem, sure, but mainly to allow the Sedarises another single-scene colorful character, the ex-alcoholic but pill-popping Dr. Ginley (Bonnie Griffin). And so it goes.
 
As far as resolving all of this, it’s no surprise that Liz returns to Clusterhaven for that arbitrary event. We are supposed to accept that the arrogant Reverend Tollhouse has felt chastised by events, since the religious community’s booming business has gone bust without Liz in the kitchen and her secret ingredient amidst the gouda and cream cheese. (That ingredient is both hilarious and perfectly appropriate, the best touch in this comedy.) But we hadn’t seen an inkling of such capacity before.
 
There’s no law against shouting “Cheese balls!” in a crowded theater, but maybe there should be, if what follows lacks more theatrical coherence than The Book of Liz. Or at least this version. Perhaps a more professional production would rescue the stereotypes that are serving as characters. Boggs as Liz is convincing, a backbone always supporting her befuddlement, though we could use the tension of more exasperation. Of the broader humor that this farce also requires, Lindsey Meyers is barn-door-wide as Sister Constance Butterworth, who criticizes others with hand-rubbing glee. Meyers flirts with excess but also is committed to inhabiting the crotchety character. Broccoli, on the other hand, as several outlandish characters, hasn’t been convinced that mugging is not acting.
 
In this incarnation, The Book of Liz will win few converts.
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  Topics: Theater , National Public Radio Inc., Mick Jones, Amy Sedaris,  More more >
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