Encore Michigan

Monster Box’s ‘Book of Liz’ is the gospel according to the Sedaris writing duo

Review December 01, 2018 Patrice Nolan

WATERFORD, Mich.— Before there was The Book of Mormon (the musical) there was The Book of Liz, a play by humorist and author David Sedaris and his sister, actress, comedian and writer Amy Sedaris. 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. If you are a fan of the sardonic and slightly naughty style that the Sedaris siblings own (we are guilty as charged) you already have an idea of what this comedy portends.

The “Squeamish” faith community invented for the Book of Liz relies on an Amish-based proclivity for Jamestown-era puritanism. (Get it? Sque-amish!) This is leavened with an outrageous canon of superstitions, racism, misogyny and homophobia. The cult is made even more ridiculous with the invention of a proprietary shibboleth-cum-semaphore of elaborate hand gestures calculated to ward-off evil and bless the chosen. Best of all is that the only source of income for this Squeamish community is their sale of cheeseballs—the tastiest balls around. It’s delightfully puerile and we can only imagine Sedaris’s arched eyebrow as the play was penned.

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 men folk and bitchier women (Mike Olsem, Al Bartlett and Betty DeWulf), Elizabeth tries to be content with her humble lot. She is disappointed to be overlooked as leader of the Chastity Parade (highlighting the dangers of Casual Glancing). She is a bit miffed when her suggestions are snubbed by the smug brethren. But soon, she is pushed a wooden spoon too far. The cult’s cheeseball success is a result of Elizabeth’s proprietary recipe and handmade manufacture. Now Reverend 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. When Liz makes her escape, she is terrified by a Mr. Peanut brand mascot. A ringing phone sends her diving under the table. But kindness prevails, and she is given refuge by Ukrainian immigrants (Allison Mergroet and Chris Peterson) who have learned to speak English with a perfect Cockney accent. (Think “Bert” from Mary Poppins.) 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 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.

Click here for show days, times and details.

Read more about  The Book of Liz 11/30–12/16

Read more about Monster Box Theatre