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A CurtainUp Review
The Book of Liz
By Les Gutman
ç The Book of Liz,
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.