Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Book of Liz Review

A modified version of this review was posted for a very short time on Vital Source Online. I've decided to publish it here for lack of another outlet. For the full story (and my opinion of the story) see the next post.

The Book of Liz at Boulevard

By Rex Winsome

The Boulevard Ensemble Theatre's Milwaukee premiere production of David and Amy Sedaris' The Book of Liz, approaches the play without the cartoonish costumes, the ludicrously artificial sets, and the other visual stunts that had New York reviewers raving about the Sedaris' own production in 2001. By stripping away all these visuals, director Mark Bucher was able to tackle this cinematic, scene-change ridden comedy with little or no budget.

The use of direct narration to describe the scenes and action might be a viable (even bold) approach to this visual, technically challenging play if the narration had been funny and stylistically consistent with the script. Unfortunately, it was neither. Instead, Bucher worked against the script, inundating this idiosyncratic play with tired gags, clich├ęs, and lame references to pop songs (I'll never understand why adding a line from a recognizable song is supposed equal free laughs.) It does look like Bucher succeeded in not spending any money on the production itself, but not in a raw, simple "towards a poor theatre" sort of way, more of a "forget set design, lets just throw all this random kitschy stuff we've got laying around at em" sort of way.

Much of the humor of this piece managed to shine through all this muck thanks to a talented cast. Beth Monhollen played the title character wonderfully straight. She navigates the Sedaris' bizarre situations (from a religious sect devoted to cheese ball production to a pilgrim themed restaurant staffed almost entirely with recovering alcoholics) with a simple, genuine performance, making her the funniest part of the show. The rest of the cast also hit some moments perfectly, especially David Oplinger, Ruth Boulet and Kathleen Williams, but their performances lacked consistency. We probably shouldn't blame them though, because their weak points were characterized by the same kind of hamming-it-up and desperate begging for laughs that populates their director's long pre-show speeches.

My personal experiences at the Boulevard have been mixed. They've produced many excellent plays, often by playwrights that don't get much attention elsewhere in the city, but occasionally their productions slide into the kind of amateurish goofing off that practically sank this show.


Anonymous said...

You're a wise man, Rex. A good review, i think. Can't always be sunshine and roses, can it?

Anonymous said...

This isn't even what i would consider a "bad" review.

You were accurate and positive where you could be.

If I didn't already know that Mark is not a funny person, I wouldn't have been discouraged to see this. You made it sound like it had at least a solid handful of "moments."

I guess dirty, artsy hippies should never get old because they always turn into self-important bitches.

Keeping that opinion of mine in mind, i will say that if i had time i probably still would have seen "Book Of Liz" EVEN IF i read your review because i KNOW that, just as my opinion of Mark and his crappy theater is only worth it's weight in blog salt, your review is just that as well. It is opinion. (well, ok... we all know that it is a FACT that Mark isn't funny.)

I just can't imagine calling a paper and calling sponsors to have a review changed.

I'm sure that they consider it a smug victory and all they've hear in response from their smug LITTLE, FINITE audience will be "Good job stopping that horrid review that was written by those young punks with funny hair who don't even know what 'real theater' is."

When really they just lost maybe hundreds more of POTENTIAL FUTURE patrons who now simply believe the Boulevard to be bitchy, smug, fake art snobs who are afraid of the young punks with funny hair.