REVIEW: The Book of Liz (Chemically Imbalanced Comedy)

Innovation triumphs over imitation



book of liz with mr peanut

Chemically Imbalanced Comedy presents
The Book of Liz
Written by Amy and David Sedaris
Directed by Angie McMahon
1420 W. Irving Park (map)
through December 18th |  tickets: $18  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

Amy Sedaris is a nut. I’ve been following her career since her early days on Comedy Central’s surrealist sketch show “Exit 57” (directed by Annoyance Theatre founder Mick Napier). Unlike her female contemporaries Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who have both deservedly found success on network television, Sedaris has never learned, or perhaps wanted, to tone down her irreverent brand of humor and repackage it for the masses, as evidenced by the darkly hilarious Strangers With Candy. In short, she is a unique spirit that demands a cult following.

Book of Liz - Sarah Rose Graber That is why I was blown away by Chemically Imbalanced Comedy’s remount of its production of The Book of Liz, a play penned by Sedaris and her equally talented brother, David Sedaris. Sarah Rose Graber fills in for the title character, Sister Elizabeth Donderstock, a character originally portrayed by Sedaris herself, and brings an energy that is both congruent with the play’s wacky tone while wholly original. This is significant because I would expect Sedaris’ shadow to intimidate most actresses into paying homage, but not so with Graber.

The Book of Liz concerns a small community of Quaker-like Christians known as the Squeamish. The Squeamish are simple folk who do without modern-day amenities and instead spend their time praising God and making cheeseballs. Liz is the under-appreciated genius behind the cheeseballs, which serve as the community’s financial backbone. Her patience is tested when parishioner Brother Brightbee (Brian Kash) visits from a nearby community to learn the lucrative craft. It is then that Liz resolves to run away and experience the outside world.

While on the outside, Liz encounters a cast of colorful characters, including a Ukrainian couple that speaks with cockney accents and a colonial-themed restaurant staffed by recovering alcoholics. Meanwhile, back at the Squeamish community, Brother Brightbee becomes increasingly frustrated as he fails again and again to replicate the famous cheeseball recipe.

Graber deserves all the praise she can get for her wide-eyed portrayal of Liz. She is unwavering in her commitment to the character’s little tics, from her squeaky voice to her “Gosh darn” facial expressions. Equally worthy of praise is her supporting cast, including Kash, who did double duty by filling in for Bryan Beckwith, the actor slated to play restaurant manager Duncan. As Brother Brightbee, Kash’s hyperbolized passive aggression toward Liz makes for some tense comedy. Adam El-Sharkawi, too, does an outstanding job as Reverend Tollhouse, the Squeamish community’s no-nonsense leader. In one of the play’s only dramatic scenes, Liz confronts the Reverend about his workhorse ways. Here, Graber and El-Sharkawi forge a genuinely touching connection in the midst of the otherwise hair-brained comedy.

Angie McMahon’s direction is resourceful. Chemically Imbalanced Comedy’s space is tight—incredibly tight. And yet she manages to swiftly transform the stage from a parish to a restaurant to a doctor’s office without letting the momentum of the play slow for a moment.

Chemically Imbalanced Comedy’s The Book of Liz stays true to the Sedaris spirit. Fortunately, this does not hamper the actors from taking risks and breathing new life into the play’s characters. If you are looking for a good laugh (and who isn’t these days), check out this production!

Rating: ★★★★

Cast (*indicates returning cast members)

*Sarah Rose Graber…Liz
*Brian Kash…Brother Brightbee
*Nathan Petts…Donny/Visil
*Cynthia Shur…Cecily/Dr. Barb
*Adam El Sharkawi …Rev. Tollhouse
*Lina Bunte…Sister Buterworth
Laura Wilkinson…Oxanna
Eric Bays…Yvonne
Bryan Beckwith…Duncan
Directed by *Angie McMahon


book of liz poster - large

7 Responses

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  4. I was looking forward to attending this event. However, I was unable to do so because as I stood waiting in line with my GoldStar tickets they were SELLING our seats to someone else. I was told it was too late eventhough they had just sold our seats in front of my eyes!! The lady did not apologize and simply told me to look at the website. She said we could come back and talk to the manager. We were just on time due to parking issues, the fact there isn’t any available and our night was ruined. I assume when you buy something in advance you have a guarantee, the opening announcements had not even been made. They just wanted to make their final dollars. I will never use Goldstar again and I will absolutely not be attending any productions at the Chemically Imbalanced Theater. The fact she sold my pre-paid tickets right in front of my eyes without any apology is unacceptable.

  5. […] – thru March 6 reasons to be pretty ★★★½ Profiles Theatre – thru March 13 The Book of Liz ★★★★ Chemically Imbalanced-thru […]

  6. seriously?! This play was ATROCIOUS when I saw it YEARS ago and I can’t imagine that it is any better now. Chemically Imbalanced Comedy must be pretty pathetic to be doing this same, crap show over and over again! They are simply riding off the Sedaris name to get butts in the seat…but it must be the worst thing to ever come out of the Sedaris family. What a career these actors and director must have to have to repeat the same awful production year after year!

  7. […] Recommend A Twist of Water ★★★★ Route 66 Theatre – thru March 26 The Book of Liz ★★★★ Chemically Imbalanced-thru Mar26 The Cripple of Inishmaan […]

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