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Book/Pulp

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.

Stuck in Los Angeles during the long, hot month of August and looking for some escape? Two of L.A.'s small theaters in Hollywood are currently providing trips to quirky places far from the summer madness of Southern California.

The Blank Theatre Company on Santa Monica Boulevard offers a trip to rural Pennsylvania or Indiana...it's not exactly clear. Wherever it is in the middle of our country that the austere but fictional Squeamish folk live, it's far from The Grove.

In Amy and David Sedaris' play The Book of Liz, the Squeamish folk look and act alot like Amish folk do, although the Squeamish brethren are probably funnier than any Amish people you're likely to meet.

The Sedaris siblings' take you inside the inner sanctum of the Squeamish colony of Clusterhaven--even behind the closed doors of the community kitchen where Sister Elizabeth Donderstock makes her world famous cheese balls (traditional and smoky flavor, thank you.)

Through some wonderfully contrived circumstances Sister Donderstock flees the confines of Clusterhaven and is forced to interact with the modern world. Here in America's exburbs, Sister Donderstock is forced to confront such wonders as family restaurant chains, Ukrainian immigrants, and of course, 12-step programs. In this way, The Book of Liz is a sort of pop culture Pilgrim's Progess, chronicling Sister Elizabeth's eye-opening experiences with contemporary society. At one point, a neurotic waiter tells her: &quotThe; subtext is: I can't control my love of the grape, but I can control you." To which Sister Liz responds: &quotWhat;'s -subtext'?"

At times, The Book of Liz feels like a mild satire of capitalism, but mostly it feels like a whimsical fable (or perhaps an extended bedtime story for particularly precocious children). Yet whatever you make of the breezy narrative, you're likely to be gently entertained by the Sedaris cocktail of charm and irony that is certainly present throughout The Book of Liz.

If there is a reason to see the Blank Theatre's staging (instead of simply reading the paperback version) it is to see Bonita Friedericy in the role of Sister Donderstock. Amy Sedaris herself played the role Off-Broadway, but here Friedericy makes the role entirely her own. And, as perspiration plays a major part in the play, the actress's ability to sweat convincingly--and seemingly on cue--is almost worth the admission price alone.

There's a good deal of sweating on stage at the Evidence Room these days, as the small theater on Beverly Boulevard is presenting a show with the overheated title: Killers.

Killers is being touted as an &quothomage; to the novels of pulp writers Jim Thompson and Charles Bukowski and to the music of John Coltrane--the three great poets of American loneliness." Maybe...but that description tries to pin down what is here at the Evidence Room, a five-part fugue and dreamy mood piece that needs no label to pin it down.

It's best to simply walk into the theater and let Bart DeLorenzo's simple, impressionist staging wash over you. DeLorenzo's blocking, his timing with scene changes, all of the aspects of the play's direction are transparent but effective in heightening an oppressive--yet bizarrely enjoyable--sense of despair.

Nick Offerman is particularly well cast as the pulp fiction writer, but all of the actors give fine performances. But the real star of Killers is the mood and the setting. The text calls for &quotA; boarding house in a rundown section of an American city in the nineteen fifties." But really, Killers takes place in that mythical, pulpy past where middle class men worked blue collar jobs, writers banged away on Underwood typewriters, and women smoked cigarettes and purred lines like: &quotyou; got help me kill my husband, I'll give you a break on the rent."

Thanks to the Evidence Room, this world that only exists on the pages of old paperback, comes to life vividly on stage.

John Olive's Killers continues at the Evidence Room through August 27. Amy and David Sedaris' The Book of Liz runs at the Blank Theatre Company until August 20.

This is James Taylor with Theater Talk for KCRW.

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