Darin Anthony's direction achieves just the right combination of high quality performances and a feel for what's funny. Ron Rogge's casting helps fit actors to their parts admirably, and the entire company inhabits their characters with a uniformly solid and professional feel for fully fleshing them out without getting too cornball or hamming it up.
Bonita Friedericy does full justice to the juicy part of Sister Elizabeth Donderstock, a kitchen worker at the Clusterhaven religious community, where their Biblical orientation and traditional retro-technology approach to daily life is made more comfortable by the money earned from wholesaling the cheese balls she makes so well. Mike Genovese delivers a patriarchal but sympathetic Reverend Tollhouse, whose autocratic rule, in collaboration with wonderboy Brother Nathaniel Brightbee, inadvertently steers the staid community onto a dangerous new path.
Much of the play concerns Sister Elizabeth's well-intentioned but difficult and confusing adventures in the outside world, where she encounters and learns life lessons from a slew of unforgettable characters who keep the story moving and the audience laughing.
The Sedarises have met with much success in literature and the arts, and this play provides a full measure of evidence regarding why. Sure the play is mostly populated with stock characters, and sure the situations are a little more bizarre than what we're used to in everyday life, and sure some of the plot twists are mere contrivance. But the final result is a professionally crafted balance of characters we care about with lines we laugh at, energetically driven by slightly skewed and skewering observations of familiar institutions we take seriously most of the time.
Of particular note are the performances by Laura Pruden, skating on the thin edge of outrageousness as a handful of incidental and humorous characters, by Deborah Van Valkenburgh as Sister Constance Butterworth, Clusterhaven's sanctimonious busybody, by Johanna McKay and Sam Zeller as the good-hearted Ukranian lovers Oxana and Yvone, by Tom Lenk, as Duncan Trask, who befriends Sister Elizabeth during her sojourn outside the community, and by understudy Brian Appel.
In a small space, Jason Z. Cohen's set is both interesting and flexible, offering quick changes between half a dozen different locations, including a two level arrangement that provides both visual interest and staging efficiency. Throughout, Julia Austerman's costumes and Jaymi Lee Smith's lighting evoke the proper mood.
If you like good theatre and laughter for an enjoyable couple of hours, this is your ticket. Performances have been sold out, so make your arrangements well in advance.
The Book of Liz
written by Amy Sedaris and David Sedaris (aka The Talent Family)
directed by Darin Anthony
at the 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Boulevard
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 PM, Sunday at 2 PM and 7 PM
now extended through July 31, 2005