Cheeseballs and the Amish kick off Blue Room’s new season
Joe Hilsee always has a couple of plays in his back pocket. As the Blue Room’s artistic director, that’s part of his job—to have a backup in case something falls through. In this case the casualty was no less than the season opener, Tales of the Lost Formicans, which was ditched due to the local acting pool being spread thin at the beginning of Chico’s busy fall theater season. The quality of his replacement play, Amy and David Sedaris’ hilarious Book of Liz, is an example of why the Blue Room remains Chico’s favorite little theater. It’s also an example of how deep Hilsee’s pockets have become.
“Part of our mission is to add to the quality of life of Chico,” a wide-eyed Hilsee said, excited by the power-packed season him and his company are embarking upon. Hilsee is particularly jazzed about getting first crack at New York playwright David Davalos’ Daedalus (beginning April 6, 2006); a production he says “is going to become a major American play.” Davalos was a visiting director at the Blue Room for last year’s semi-modernized telling of Shakespeare’s Richard III.
It should come as no surprise that Book of Liz, written by the Sedaris siblings (a.k.a. The Talent Family) would be a well-written, if a little offbeat, comedy. Brother David is very well known for his storytelling on NPR and hilarious best-selling novels (Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day) and sister Amy created and starred in Comedy Central’s Strangers With Candy series.
Things start off here way out in left field, in the Amish-ish “Squeamish” community of Clusterhaven, Penn., where young, pink-cheeked Sister Elizabeth Danderstock (Jocelyn Stringer) is toiling away making the famous cheeseballs that keep the community afloat. When a fellow Squeamish, Brother Nethanial Brightbee (DNA) hits the farm, he sets in motion a series of changes that leads the disenchanted Elizabeth away from the community that doesn’t totally appreciate her.
Stringer plays the arc of the titular Liz perfectly, likeable and sympathetic throughout, first as the naïve and humble farm girl, and then moving through a bizarre cast of characters in the outside world—the Planters peanut man, a restaurant where every employee is in Alcoholics Anonymous and a Ukranian couple who offer her shelter before eventually being deported—and eventually to a resolution with her Squeamish community.
The characters are fun, and the dialogue is hilarious and expertly delivered by all four actors, all of whom play more than one character.
DNA’s hyper, super-mulleted Ukrainian immigrant Yvonne is spot-on in his shiny basketball shorts (worn over sweat pants). But the killer is Betty Burns, who—in addition to playing five other characters—is at her over-the-top best as Dr. Barb Ginley, a recent A.A. graduate gripping tightly to a can of Rock Star energy drink and rolling around in sudden bursts in her office chair, losing it just a bit at one point: “Do you think I liked downing a fifth of vodka every night and waking up with cum in my ear!?!”
There’s plenty more lines where that came from. Just go—it’s really funny.