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Strangers with cheese balls

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Some theater directors will take on a project for money. Some choose to helm a particular play for the experience. Still others do it for their passion of the material or the words of the playwright.

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Count Nina Collins, director of Resurrection Theatre Company’s current production of David and Amy Sedaris’ “The Book of Liz,” among the last group.

“I love the Sedaris siblings,” said Collins, I’ve been a fan of Amy from her ‘Strangers With Candy’ days, and a fan of David ever since my brother gave me a copy of ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day.’”

Best known for their respective individual endeavors – David as a writer of such comedic essay collections as “Pretty,” “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls,” “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk,” and “Holidays on Ice,” and sister Amy, a Second City alum who transitioned into being a successful actress, playwright, director and sometimes author (“I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence,” “Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People”) – the “Talent Family” also has amassed a mess of joint playwriting credits.

Even well-read fans of the North Carolina natives – like triple-threat Collins (actress, director, playwright) – are not completely clued into the duo’s roster of mountable musings.

“I was researching plays when I stumbled across the script,” said Collins. What drew me to it was the humor, the casting of actors to play multiple roles, and the feminist undertones – it takes on the traditional roles of women, without ever denigrating them.”

The title character in “The Book of Liz” is Sister Elizabeth Donderstock (Georgann Wallace), a member of a cloistered religious sect (the Squeamish of Cluster Haven) that evokes an askew take on the Amish or maybe a mutant offshoot of the Mennonites.

Content to share her beloved cheese ball recipe as a revenue-producing product in support of her Squeamish brothers and sisters, she is nonetheless hurt and saddened when the community’s spiritual leader, Reverend Tollhouse (Earl Victorine), and newcomer Brother Nathaniel Brightbee (Steve Buri), pooh-pooh her Donderstock balls.

So begins a new chapter in “The Book of Liz,” which follows the earnest and naïve Elizabeth on a quest for self-fulfillment and appreciation.

Her road trip leads to a variety of platonic meet-cutes, including a Cockney-flavored Ukrainian couple (Bethany Hidden-Cauley and Bill Gilbert), the denizens of a family restaurant (Plymouth Crock) almost entirely staffed by recovering alcoholics, and a doctor (Katie Hulse) who hopes to cure Elizabeth’s chronic perspiration problem.

Victorine, Brightbee, Buri, Hidden-Cauley, Gilbert and Hulse all play multiple characters of one twisted degree or another.

Collins said her cast’s inventiveness helped make her vision for the show a reality.

“They always bring something new,” she said. “Theater is truly a collaborative art, and the texture and depth of the show is achieved through many people working together.”

For Collins, staging “Liz” was a reunion, having previously worked with Wallace and Victorine.

“Georgann and I have worked together several times,” said Collins. “In my play ‘Underworld,’ I wrote the role of Martha for her. She also portrayed a very Margaret Thatcher-esque prince in the punk-rock themed ‘Romeo and Juliet’ I directed in 2012.”

As bright and upbeat as her cast is, it is the shared dark-and-twisted (but never mean-spirited) Sedaris sense of suburban humor that also served to draw Collins to the material.

“I love that they find and celebrate the beauty in the mundane as well as the offbeat, and that they can take the humiliating human experiences that we all have had and find the humor in them as a way of coping and surviving,” said Collins. “They both have give attention to the details that make up a life which make their observations ring especially true.”

"The Book of Liz" plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through April 26 at Sacramento's Three Penny Playhouse. For tickets, see the Resurrection Theatre Company website.

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