The Paragon Theatre Company originally scheduled Michael Frayn's Alphabetical Order as the last show of the 2002-'03 season. Instead, the company is showing a piece by David Sedaris and his sister, Amy, called The Book of Liz. I have no idea why Paragon's plans changed, but as Hamlet so memorably asked his mother while brandishing pictures of both her former and her current husbands in front of her: "Have you eyes?...What judgment would step from this to this?"
Frayn is the witty, brilliant and sophisticated author of the profound Copenhagen and the profoundly funny Noises Off. Seeing his name on a roster of upcoming shows tends to warm a critic's cold heart. David Sedaris wrote the mildly amusing Santaland Diaries. The Book of Liz isn't even mildly amusing, however.
It's just plain dumb.
Sister Elizabeth Donderstock lives in a Squeamish community, making the cheeseballs that keep the place afloat financially. In all other ways, she's invisible. When Brother Nathaniel Brightbee shows up and expresses a desire to take over the cheeseball business, Sister Elizabeth is pushed aside completely. Off she goes into the world, where she encounters someone by the side of the road costumed as a peanut. This turns out to be a Ukrainian immigrant called Oxana, who speaks with an English accent. And so on and so on, through scene after boring scene and a lot of prolonged set changes. Naturally, Sister Elizabeth eventually returns to the Squeamish community, where she finds a contrite Nathaniel, love and respect -- and where we discover the secret ingredient in her cheeseballs.
Lest you think I'm being unfair, here's a sample of the play's humor (you already know about the peanut costume): Handed a cup by a doctor and asked for a sample, the innocent Sister Elizabeth returns with a turd.
Paragon's artistic director, Warren Sherrill, directs The Book of Liz. The acting is pretty decent, with the entire cast -- Rob Johnson, Suzanne Favette, Jon Gregory and Emily Paton Davies -- showing a fair amount of stage presence and versatility. Davies, in particular, stands out in a number of different roles: squeaky-voiced Sister Constance Butterworth (whose ridiculous mannerisms and well-timed verbalizations actually raised laughs), a fishnet-stockinged Oxana, a bitchy visiting New Yorker and a free-spirited lesbian trucker.
But it's a shame to see creative energy spent on material so pointless.
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