The Book of Liz

Review from HX magazine

Are you a fan of Jerri Blank's sick and twisted antics on Comedy Central's Strangers with Candy? Are you enjoying the hell out of that borrowed copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day, so much that you're probably not going to give it back? If so, there's a big old treat waiting for you off-Broadway: Amy Sedaris (Jerri Blank) is starring in the Dram Dept's production of The Book of Liz, an outrageous comedy Amy co-wrote with her brother David Sedaris (author of Me Talk Pretty One Day as well as Naked, Barrel Fever and much more). Yep, they're brother and sister—no wonder they call themselves The Talent Family.

In The Book of Liz, Amy plays Sister Elizabeth Donderstock, a cheese ball-making member of a vaguely Amish sect who gets pushed down and pushed around by the Reverend Tollhouse (Chuck Coggins) and new arrival Brother Nathaniel Brightbee (David Rakoff). Eventually she can't take the pressure any more and runs off to the big bad world outside. All right, that's th plot, which is little more than a pretext for some of the funniest writing and acting you'll see anywhere. The Book of Liz is a star vehicle for all four of its actors, but most of all for Amy Sedaris and the totally over-the-top Jackie Hoffman, probably one of the few actresses on the planet capable of upstaging Amy Sedaris. Hoffman plays twice as many characters as anybody else in the show, with good reason: Character comediennes don't come any better than this.

Let us not forget, however, that Amy Sedaris is one of the show's co-writers as well as its star, so her Sister Liz is a comic creation in every way equal to Hoffman's little coups de théatre. There are some Jerri Blankisms in her portrayal: the silly overbite, the eccentric pronunciation. For the most part, though, Sister Liz is angel to Jerri's demon, and much of the comedy comes from her innocent reception of the outside world. For example, when Liz becomes a waitress to make her way in the world, she is hilariously at a loss when dealing with the queens she works with: Justifiably bitter Donny Polk (Rakoff's funnies character, the queen we've all been on our "less good" days) and too-cheerful 12-stepper Duncan Trask (Coggins as the queen we've all wanted to strangle on those days).

Does the show have any serious themes? Well, something along the lines of "Judge not, lest ye be judged" surfaces, but I actually think the serious moments are there to give you a rest from laughing your ass off during the rest of the play. The Book of Liz showcases three of the greatest comic talents in today's theater—The Sedarii and Hoffman—more than able supported by Coggins and Rakoff, who would easily walk away with any show in a less stellar context. As such, it's the funniest show in town, and likely to remain so for the entirety of its run.

The Book of Liz, 8pm Mon-Fri and 7pm & 10pm Sat at the Drama Dept @ Greenwich House Theatre (27 Barrow St), $35. For tickets, call 239-6200.