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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Book of Liz
By Ariana Mufson
I can't help but feel that something's missing.
---Sister Elizabeth Donderstock, pondering whether she should stay in the "Squeamish" community of Clusterhaven

Ann Magnuson as Liz
Brother and sister duo Amy Sedaris (Strangers with Candy) and David Sedaris (Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day), the accurately labeled "Talent Family", pen this delightful comedy which mocks just about everything, even the Amish. Their heroine takes the form of Sister Elizabeth Donderstock, a bucktoothed but earnest cheese ball savant with a perspiration disorder. The puns, as we would expect from the Sedaris duo, are in full force.

Sister Donderstock (or, as she likes to be called, Liz) lives in Clusterhaven, a community of the "Squeamish." The village relies on selling Liz's cheese balls (traditional and smoky) for income, securing Liz her place as cheese ball wizard. But when Brother Nathaniel Brightbee (Jeff Witzke) moves to Clusterhaven he shakes things up, suggesting that men take their place in the kitchen and learn the art of cheese ball making-forcing Liz out. Reverend Tollhouse (Mike Genovese) demands that Liz share her recipe and Liz begins to wonder if Clusterhaven is really the place for her. She sets off into the real world to find out.

Along the way she meets, among others, a dancing peanut on the side of the road, two friendly Ukrainians, gay waiters, and various alcoholics trying to stay sober. Liz embraces all and gives up many of her Squeamish ways, keeping her identity a secret. Ultimately, she ends up back in Clusterhaven. It's a fable that doesn't preach but subtly comments on change vs. tradition and technology vs. faith. The premise is simple enough, but the native Sedaris packs in the humor along with the subtle social commentary.

Some of the play's funniest scenes turn up when Liz takes a job at the "Plymouth Crock" family restaurant, with standout Tom Lenk playing off Magnuson perfectly, as her gay manager. Turns out the Crock is home to many patrons and staff who are trying to get through AA and sober up. Liz being no stranger to spouting maxims turns into a true proponent of the 12 step program, to hilarious effect.

Magnuson has ample opportunity to shine as she carries the show, though occasionally her understated performance doesn't quite mesh with some of the more over-the-top characters. Though her timing is impeccable, it's hard not to picture Amy Sedaris in the role. Johanna McKay, as Oxana the Ukrainian immigrant, and Mike Genovese, as Reverend Tollhouse, have their moments, but both could have been stand outs instead of just very good.

Luckily, "very good" is still strong enough to carry the show. Sedaris f ans will be pleased at this witty and clever play, and as long as the cast keeps their energy going who knows-the run could be extended even further (it was scheduled to close June 6, but brisk ticket sales have led to an extension through the 26th).

Editor's Note: Here's a link to our review of the show when Amy Sedaris appeared in it -- The Book Of Liz-- Off-Off-Broadway.

TheBook Of Liz-
Playwright: Amy Sedaris and David Sedaris
Director: Darin Anthony
Cast: Ann Magnuson, Matt Crabtree, Mike Genovese, Tom Lenk, Johanna McKay, Laura Pruden, Susan Ruttan, Jeff Witzke, and Sam Zeller
Set Design: Jason Z. Cohen
Lighting Design: Jaymi Lee Smith
Costume Design: Julia Austerman
Sound Design: Warren Davis
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission
Running Dates: 4/26/05; originally through 6/5/05, extended until 6/26/05.
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m, Sundays at 2 pm. < br> 2nd Stage Theatre. 6500 Santa Monica Blvd. (corner of Wilcox) Hollywood, CA 90038
Tickets: $25 for all performances. or 323-661-9827 or the box office one hour prior to curtain.
Reviewed by Ariana Mufson on Sunday, May 16, 2005. /td>

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