BY PATRICE NOLAN
WATERFORD — Before the musical “The Book of Mormon” debuted there was “The Book of Liz,” a play by humorist and author David Sedaris and his sister Amy, who is an actress, comedian and writer. It’s a sendup of extremist faith-based communities that are in denial about everything secular, sexy or “sciencey.” It’s not for those easily offended or immune to the charms of irony, parody and wanton silliness. But, for those who are fans of the sardonic and slightly naughty style that the Sedaris siblings own, they’ll have a good idea of what to expect.
The “Squeamish” faith community invented for the “Book of Liz” relies on an Amish-rooted tendency toward Jamestown-esque puritanism and paired with an outrageous canon of superstitions, racism, misogyny and homophobia. The cult is made even more ridiculous with the invention of a variety of elaborate hand gestures meant to ward off evil and bless the chosen. Best of all is that the only source of income for this community is their sale of cheeseballs — allegedly the tastiest balls around. It’s delightfully silly.
The unlikely heroine of the play is mild-mannered Sister Elizabeth Donderstock (Angela Dill) who has a profound perspiration disorder that requires her to continuously dab herself with a sweat-soaked tea towel. Born and raised in the cloistered Squeamish religious community, she has been conditioned to embrace her own unworthiness. In the lifelong habit of submitting to the orders and disciplines imposed on her by the menfolk and bitchier women (Mike Olsem, Al Bartlett and Betty DeWulf).
Elizabeth tries to be content with her humble lot, but she is disappointed to be overlooked as leader of the Chastity Parade — its intention to highlight the dangers of casual glancing. She is a bit miffed when her suggestions are snubbed by the smug brethren and it’s not long before she’s pushed too far. In particular because the cult’s cheeseball success is a result of Elizabeth’s recipe and handmade manufacture. It’s at that point that the Rev. Tollhouse plans to send her out to the chive patch and install the charismatic Brother Brightbee (Daniel DeRey) in her kitchen. What’s a mature virgin who’s never set foot in the real world to do but run away?
The laughs in this “The Book of Liz” are largely situational; the Squeamish cast members assume a wide-eyed melodramatic response to everything they don’t understand, which is, well, everything. But kindness prevails, and after running away she is given refuge by Ukrainian immigrants (Allison Mergroet and Chris Peterson) who have learned to speak English with a perfect cockney accent. They help her land a job as a waitress in a pilgrim-themed restaurant (Plymouth Crock) owned and operated by a band of recovering alcoholics (Jeremiah Pauling, Nik Khator and Malina Lyons).
Naturally, Liz’s puritanical dress and her ingrained humility help her blend right in and she is soon offered a management position. There’s just the little matter of the sweating problem … and her refusal to kick the Squeamish habit.
Meanwhile, back at the Squeamish community, everything is in an uproar. No one can quite replicate the signature cheeseball zest and financial ruin is imminent. How will it all work out? In the silliest way possible, of course.
The Book of Liz is co-directed by Monster Box Artistic Director Paul Stark and Managing Director Tahra Gribbin. In addition to those mentioned, the ensemble includes Rita Chester, Patty Salter and Kim VoVillia. This comedy is intended for mature audiences – it’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” meets “The Book of Mormon” – and works as social satire that is not without a message. Cheesy? To be sure. But for fans of the Sedaris siblings, it’s no sweat.
<TAGLINE To find out more information about the play go online to monsterboxtheatre.com.>
BY PATRICE NOLAN