Perhaps that’s why The Blank Theatre Company chose to stage "The Book of Liz," a play from the witty and slightly warped minds of siblings Amy and David Sedaris, otherwise known as The Talent Family.
Amy, who writes the Comedy Central hit "Strangers with Candy" and stars as Jerri Blank, and David, the bestselling author of such novels as Me Talk Pretty One Day and Naked, collaborated on this offbeat, fish-out-of-water tale of unique characters – and some damn funny one-liners.
Though Amy once played the title role, this production features Ann Magnuson as the bumbling Liz, better known as Sister Elizabeth Dunderstock in the austere, Amish-spoof "Squeamish" community in the town of Cluster Haven. Elizabeth is plain and has a bit of a sweating problem (she forlornly recalls how children used to call her "Soakahontas"), but provides for the community by making the cheeseballs (traditional and smoky) for which they are famous. Elizabeth is ignored and unappreciated by her fellow Squeamish, particularly the Bible-thumping Reverend Tollhouse (Mike Genovese).
When the Reverend gives Elizabeth the ultimate insult by enlisting the help of Brother Brightbee (Jeff Witzke) in her place for the "Chastity Parade" (highlighting "the danger of casual glancing"), she’s understandably saddened. But it’s the last straw for Elizabeth when the Reverend demands she turn over her cheeseball recipe to the sanctimonious Brother Brightbee. Overworked and under-appreciated? You bet.
She leaves Cluster Haven in search of a place where she feels needed and encounters some peculiar characters along the way. There’s Oxana (Kirsten Vangness), a free-spirited Ukranian woman who makes a living dancing on the side of a highway dressed as a Planters peanut; her horny husband Yvone (Sam Zeller); and Elizabeth’s boss at the Plymouth Crock Family Restaurant, the flamboyant Duncan (Tom Lenk), a 12-stepping former alcoholic. Life outside Cluster Haven seems to suit Elizabeth – she’s right at home at the restaurant with her stiff Squeamish clothing, and even though her fellow employees won’t let her park her llama in the employee parking lot, everything else is going swimmingly for "Liz," as her friends now call her.
But there’s one thing Elizabeth can’t adjust to: living in a place that’s constantly changing, so contrary to the stagnant, but comforting, way of life in Cluster Haven. She ultimately makes a surprising decision to reconcile Squeamish life with what she’s learned on the outside.
True to the writing of Amy Sedaris, the play is full of memorable, small characters, who often seem to get better lines than even the lead characters. Laura Pruden and Matt Crabtree each play several characters that appear briefly but get the most laughs, such as Pruden’s shrill Ms. Foxley and Crabtree’s unintelligible Visil. Duncan’s strained relationship with his ex and Plymouth Crock waiter Donny (also played by Crabtree) provides some humorous sexual tension.
Still, one can imagine that Sedaris must have had a ball playing Elizabeth, a well-meaning but understandably naïve woman. Her sheltered life means there are plenty of opportunities for her to screw up in the real world – and she does. But Ann Magnuson places an emphasis on Elizabeth’s endearing innocence, which makes her seem, well, kind of sweet when she humorously misinterprets directions to "go to the bathroom" in a cup at the doctor’s office. Elizabeth eventually softens even the hardest of hearts, namely harsh Reverend Tollhouse, and brings harmony back to the Squeamish.
Witty dialogue and sympathetic (if slightly odd) characters make "The Book of Liz" worth seeing.
So what are you waiting for? GET UP AND GET OUT!
The 2nd Stage Theatre is located at 6500 Santa Monica Blvd. (between Highland and Vine at Wilcox), in Hollywood. Show times: Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m., 7 p.m. Price: $25. To purchase tickets, call (323) 661-9827 or visit www.theblank.com/mainstage.