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A CurtainUp Review
The Book of Liz


ç The Book of Liz,
/i>The subtext is: "I canít control my love of the grape,
but I can control you

---Donny, explaining 12-steppers to Liz
What is "subtext"?---Liz
It's a fairly simple recipe, really, but the ingredients are mighty hard to find: Take one of the funniest satirists around and combine him, synergistically, with his equally funny sister — who is also a masterful clown, someone with the je ne sais qua of, say, Lucille Ball. Coax them to write a play. Add the satirist's boyfriend (who presumably understands the particular cadence of his humor as well or better than anyone else), and ask him not only to direct but also to design an especially sympatico set. Put the sister onstage with the best trio of sketch comedians money can't buy. Shake and bake.

That's the essence of The Book of Liz. David and Amy Sedaris, a.k.a. The Talent Family, have written 75 brilliant minutes of hysterical theater and, although she heads the cast, Chuck Coggins, David Rakoff and (especially) Jackie Hoffman cut her no slack. Comedy doesn't get much better than this.

Brother Nathaniel Brightbee (Rakoff), a sanctimonious new arrival in Cluster Haven, an Amish-like community (known as the Squeamish), upsets the prevailing simplicity of life. Reverend Tollhouse (Coggins) is intimidated by the holier-than-thou competition, and lets Brightbee take over the cheese-ball making operation that is their economic lifeblood. This doesn't sit well with Sister Elizabeth Donderstock (Sedaris) who, after all, invented the secret recipe that makes the Cluster Haven cheese balls and whose reign over the process has never before been interfered with by anything more serious than the incessant kibbitzing of Sister Constance Butterworth (Hoffman). Now Liz has been demoted to harvesting chives. (She complains to the Reverend, "I don't have the temperement for chiving.")

Frustrated, Liz runs away from Cluster Haven and, of the side of the road, meets a person dressed up as Mr. Peanut (actually a Ukrainian woman named Oxana (Hoffman)). Liz moves in with Oxana and her husband, Yvon (Rakoff) and they find her a job at a Pilgrim-themed restaurant (where the serve things like "I hate the English muffins"). The staff, including a pair of pricelessly real gay men (Rakoff and Coggins) and some AA members, are fuel for an almost endless stream of laughs. Jackie Hoffman's appearance in this scene as the "sophisticated visitor" (from New York, natch) almost gave me a heart attack.

Liz flourishes (she commutes to work on a llama, incidentally) until the decide to change the ambiance and want her to wear a revealing uniform, contrary to her strict religious beliefs. Meanwhile, things at Cluster Haven are not so hot, since Brother Brightbee's cheese balls seem to be missing something. Before they're through, Liz will return, everyone will live happily ever after and Hoffman will sing us one helluva hilarious song (about cheese balls, of course).

Fans of David's books will find the keen wit that makes them so appealing in abundance; lovers of Amy's "Strangers With Candy" will be equally satisfied. (I love both.) I first encountered Jackie Hoffman last summer in a forgettable play called Straitjacket in which she was unforgettable. It's wonderful to see her performing material that's as good as she is.

THE BOOK OF LIZ
by The Talent Family, David and Amy Sedaris
Directed by Hugh Hamrick
with Chuck Coggins, Jackie Hoffman, David Rakoff and Amy Sedaris
Set Design: Hugh Hamrick
Costume Design: Victoria Farrell
Lighting Design: Kirk Bookman
Sound Design: Laura Grace Brown
Hair Design: Sten "Perfidia" Kirkham
Composer: Mark Levenson
Running Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes with no intermission
A production of Drama Dept.
Greenwich House Theater, 27 Barrow Street (just east of 7th Av. S..) Telephone (212) 239-6200 Mon. - Fri. @8, Sat. @7 and 10. except 5/11 and 5/18@ 7 and 10, no performance 5/12, 14-15 and extra performances on 5/20 @3 and 7; $35
Opening 3/26/01 Closing 5/20/01 --several extensions, to 6/01/01 .
Reviewed byLes Gutman based on 3/28/01
broadwaynewyork.com


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