Siblings Amy and David Sedaris may not be best known as playwrights, but writing together as “The Talent Family” they have co-authored several comedic scripts, including “The Book of Liz,” which is running through June 30 at Trinity Street Theatre, courtesy of Different Stages.
“The Book of Liz” is, more than anything else, a very silly play, and this is not an insult — silliness is clearly the intended goal of both the playwright and the production. It tells the story of Sister Elizabeth Donderstock, a member of the “Squeamish” religious order (picture a food-obsessed parody of the Amish) and the creator of the signature, wildly popular cheese balls that the order sells in order to remain financially afloat. When she begins to chafe under the order’s male domination, Liz decides to run away and finds herself facing the modern world (and an eclectic array of contemporary characters) for the first time in her life.
The Sedaris’ comedy here is of a gentle kind, more akin to the NPR-friendly humor of David’s writings than the off-the-wall zaniness characterized by Amy’s television work. It is very much like an extended sketch one might hear or see on “A Prairie Home Companion”; none of the jokes are particularly sharp or mean-spirited, but they elicit more than a few wry chuckles and deeper laughs at the pure goofiness of it all.
Different Stages’ production is entirely in on the joke; it highlights this good-natured silliness at every opportunity, ranging from broad characterizations and pantomimed props to over-the-top fake beards. Director Robert Tolaro is not trying to push the envelope here, or to produce searing social commentary, but rather just to get the audience to smile, and in that he wholly succeeds.
The cast, as well, is completely in tune with the text’s gentle humor. Miriam Rubin, as the put-upon Liz, is sweetly and smartly charming, a wonderful juxtaposition to the zanier antics of the rest of the cast. Robert L. Berry’s sonorous voice is put to great use in the dual role of the head of the Squeamish order, Reverend Tollhouse, and the manager at the restaurant where Liz ends up working. Katherine Schroeder, as both a sister in the order and a recovering alcoholic doctor whom Liz visits, provides a slow, subtle comedic burn that ramps up into some of the deepest belly laughs of the play.
The younger members of the cast — Sunshine Garrison, Christian Huey and Beau Paul — all show their comedic chops in their ability to shift between a variety of different character types. In a surprise appearance as the narrator of the play, Different Stages producer (and recent Austin Arts Hall of Fame inductee) Norman Blumensaadt also provides an unexpected highlight, moving the story along with dapper charm and bouncy feet.
If “The Book of Liz” could be described in one word, it would be “cute,” and there’s nothing wrong with that. It is also, though, surprisingly sweet and tender in its final few moments, providing a bit of insight about the roles of both tradition and change in our contemporary world. And, of course, it is at all times willfully, lightheartedly and self-consciously cheesy.
“THE BOOK OF LIZ”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through June 30
Where: Black Box Theater, 901 Trinity St.