Published July 1 - 7, 1999

Tiny malice

The Sedaris siblings tell a dark tale of passion in their new play.


HE DOES THE WRITING, she does the acting. Or wiggling, or sashaying, or shouting. It's not a garden-variety sort of performance that you'll find from Amy Sedaris, the 5-foot-something comedienne who's the featured player in her brother David's new play The Little Frieda Mysteries. Gifted with the same whiny intonation as her NPR-favored sibling, Amy chooses to deform her petite frame, via a heavily padded costume, for her role as Aunt Frieda, small-town miser obsessed with doll-house furniture. Then, making a couple of "cameo appearances" as foul-mouthed neighbor Cobbler Mathews, she distorts her pretty face with a device that pulls her nose up in precisely that piggish way favored by kindergartners experimenting with Scotch tape.

The Little Frieda Mysteries
Moore Theatre, July 22-27

This willful transformation of the ordinary into the grotesque is, of course, a trademark of the Sedaris clan. David's stories, published and featured on the radio program This American Life, turn the most innocuous of experiences (a summer job, a visit with grandma, and, most famously, employment as a Macy's Christmas elf) into nightmares of out-of-control passions and personal humiliation. In The Little Frieda Mysteries, heartless malignancy is the rule of the day. Our narrator, Little Frieda (Rebecca Wisocky--tall, sultry, and pissed off), has had her dreams of success as a hand model dashed by an ill-advised joust with some balancing beams. With both arms in casts, she's dependent on her bizarre aunt for any number of basic necessities--an arrangement that inevitably fosters deep resentment.

When her elderly relative falls in love with the altogether awful bartender and con man Russ Newport (Chuck Coggins), Little Frieda wreaks her vengeance by giving her aunt a crash course in wooing a man--a procedure, she teaches, that includes dressing up in a sort of "disco chicken" outfit and reciting obscenities from a series of index cards. It's here that the playwright reveals his Tourette-like tendency towards sudden streams of graphic obscenities, which vanish almost as soon as they're spoken. It's funny, but also more than a little disturbing, as if the Sedarises can't manage to stifle their darker obsessions under what is, essentially, a slight and quirky comedy about the ridiculous things people will do when in love. There's more than a hint of high school hijinks to the evening, with the ridiculous costumes, minimal set, and broadly silly performances.

When Little Frieda receives a heart transplant after her own expires from bile and selfishness, her doom is to suddenly be driven to obsessive caring about people. Only in the world of the Sedarises would compassion be seen as the ultimate punishment.

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