Favorite

The Book of Liz 

The play's sweet disposition and somewhat sappy ending are certainly not something I anticipated.

click to enlarge Gayle Pazerski (left) and Kelly Marie McKenna in The Book of Liz, at No Name Players. Photo courtesy of Lauren Zirchin.
  • Gayle Pazerski (left) and Kelly Marie McKenna in The Book of Liz, at No Name Players. Photo courtesy of Lauren Zirchin.
One thing you're sure of going into The Book of Liz, a newish comedy receiving its Pittsburgh premiere with No Name Players: This is going to be an evening of bite, satire and plenty of bitchy punch. I mean, it's written by the brother-and-sister pair of David and Amy Sedaris -- not writers you'd ever accuse of heartwarming sentimentality.

The Liz of the title is a member of an Amish-like religious group called The Squeamish … whose only contact with the outside world from marketing their extremely famous cheese balls, made by Liz herself. So you've got the Sedarises lampooning religious literalism, and you just can't wait for it to get nasty!

But the big surprise is that it really never does. I don't know if it's because director Don DiGiulio has chosen to emphasize the play's "heart," or because Amy and David have mellowed in middle age. But the play's sweet disposition and somewhat sappy ending are certainly not something I anticipated.

The Book of Liz turns out to be a goofy version of The Wizard of Oz; Liz runs away from her cloistered community, bumping up against all sorts of wacky characters along the way only to realize, ultimately, that there is no place like home. And it's not that the Sedarises are satirizing feel-good endings: As an audience, we are clearly meant to be moved by Liz's journey.

So it makes a great deal of sense that No Name Players has cast Gayle Pazerski in the role: She is an immensely likable actress who can successfully play downtrodden without ever seeming defeated.

Four actors play the dozen or so secondary characters populating the story, and I really love how DiGiulio has encouraged the comic inventions of Jody O'Donnell, Kelly Marie McKenna, John Feightner and Allison Fatla. I saw them early in the show's run and they were still working on grounding their characters -- right now there's more mannerism than manner on stage.

But once they've finishing polishing it all up, this is going to be a funny, if oddly touching, little play.

 

THE BOOK OF LIZ continues through June 25. No Name Players at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co., 542 Penn Ave., Downtown. www.nonameplayers.org

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