Stage & Dance

Sedaris play seems 'perfect fit' for actress to take the lead

Sister Elizabeth Donderstock is Karyn Czar's third time playing a nun on a Lexington stage. Balagula Theatre presents The Book of Liz by Amy and David Sedaris Nov. 27-Dec. 7 at Natasha's Bistro and Bar, 112 Esplanade. These photos were taken at a dress rehearsal in the Balagula rehearsal studio Nov. 17, 2011. Photo by Rich Copley| Lexington Herald-Leader
Sister Elizabeth Donderstock is Karyn Czar's third time playing a nun on a Lexington stage. Balagula Theatre presents The Book of Liz by Amy and David Sedaris Nov. 27-Dec. 7 at Natasha's Bistro and Bar, 112 Esplanade. These photos were taken at a dress rehearsal in the Balagula rehearsal studio Nov. 17, 2011. Photo by Rich Copley| Lexington Herald-Leader Lexington Herald-Leader

This is getting to be a habit with Karyn Czar.

Balagula Theatre's production of sibling satirists Amy and David Sedaris' play The Book of Liz marks the third time in her Lexington stage career that she will play a nun.

The first two turns were for Studio Players: In 1999's production of the drama The Runner Stumbles, she played an ill-fated nun in love with a priest; and in 2002's Nunsense she was Sister Mary Amnesia.

The current show has maybe an ounce of the pathos in The Runner Stumbles but much of the laughter of Nunsense, albeit in a different, distinctly Sedarisian form of comedy.

"I really liked the script," Czar says. "A lot of people who had read it before told me they thought this would be a good role for me."

The Book of Liz is the story of Sister Elizabeth Donderstock of a religious order called the Squeamish in the community of Clusterhaven. Her expert touch with making cheese balls has been the key to maintaining her community for decades. But when the Rev. Tollhouse decides the new guy in Clusterhaven, Brother Nathaniel Brightbee, should make the cheese balls, Liz leaves the order to discover the real world for the first time in her more than 40 years. Her first encounter is with a woman in a Mr. Peanut costume. It gets weirder from there.

"There's something so simplistic about her," Czar says. "She has this element of truly caring about everyone she meets. She doesn't judge anyone. She doesn't look down on anyone. Everything is new and nice. She doesn't see the bad in anyone. Even when she snaps to the point she wants to leave, I don't think it's because of people around her. I think she feels something in herself is missing. ... She's the one that needs to change, not them."

Director Ryan Case says Balagula selected the comedy for the holidays because its season thus far featured heavy plays, and there are more heavy plays to come in the new year.

"We like to have fun, and we have a good sense of humor, too," Case says. "When choosing a comedy and a holiday show, the Sedaris humor fits very well with our programming. It's a very offbeat, very ridiculous sense of humor."

Lexington theatergoers probably best know David Sedaris for The SantaLand Diaries, which has been presented several times by Actors Guild of Lexington, but also for his books, essays for magazines including The New Yorker, and features on NPR. He co-wrote The Book of Liz with his sister Amy, an actress of Strangers With Candy fame who has also become known for writing tongue-in-cheek gracious living books like I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence and Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People.

When Liz opened in New York in 2001, with Amy Sedaris in the lead role, New York Times critic Ben Brantley called the play a "delightfully off-key, off-color hymn to clichés we all live by, whether we know it or not."

Case says, "This is a script where you read it, and you truly laugh out loud, and you get it, and your imagination just starts going right away. As my imagination got going, as I was constructing this in my mind, it was always Karyn.

"Karyn was a perfect fit for this character. There was no one else. I wouldn't cast anyone else. It was Karyn and Karyn only for me."

A nun's habit is a familiar costume to Czar, but she has not been onstage much during the past few years. Once a Lexington theater regular, Czar has taken on just a few supporting roles recently. She played a homeless person in Lexington Children's Theatre's production of Annie and one of the Weird Sisters in The Woodford Theatre's production of Macbeth.

She says a part of that absence is attributed to adapting to a new job. She might have been known to Lexingtonians as the reporter for Clear Channel Radio in Lexington, primarily on WLAP-630 AM, before she lost her job in cutbacks at the company.

Now she works for the state Department of Travel and Tourism, reporting and writing for its Web site, social media outlets and other communications avenues. Czar says her first year in that post she really focused on getting into the job, but the urge has since hit her to get back onstage. In Liz, she found the perfect avenue, she says.

And she hopes The Book of Liz represents a more long-term return to the theater, "if people will cast me," she says. At least she's back in familiar territory.

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