“I am the greatest loser of the world!” So claims Marjorie Taub in the twisted comedy The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife. But she is such a lovable loser.
Boasting impeccable timing by its superb cast, Theater J’s production is a breath of comic air as the summer heats up outside. This was my first encounter of Charles Busch’s 1999 play about a depressed doctor’s wife wallowing in her misery in her nicely appointed and tony apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
The fact that Charles Busch wrote this is something of a revelation to me. I am very familiar with his more subversive, spoofs of old movies, grand divas, and vintage pop culture from the 1980s. Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Psycho Beach Party, Red Scare on Sunset and other titles are deliciously wicked and always sported a juicy leading lady role for Mr. Busch.
In The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, Busch mines a more conventional vein – as if it were written by Neil Simon’s more effete and cosmopolitan brother. The resulting script still has the sparkling and occasionally coarse wit of his earlier work, but Busch trades references to old time movie stars and film clichés with literary references and philosophers. The tale is presented by a clever, helpful and patient doorman, Mohammed, embodied as an omniscient factotum by the gifted and versatile Maboud Ebrahimzadeh. Mohammed serves as a scribe, a handy man, a confidante throughout the evening and Ebrahimzadeh is perfect for the role.
Our depressed heroine, Marjorie, (played with relish by Susan Rome) wears her damaged psyche like a worn-in cardigan. A dilettante and self-taught student of Herrmann Hesse and other intellectual giants, Marjorie has not pulled herself out of her funk since her therapist died. It doesn’t help that her very, very Jewish mother Frieda reminds Marjorie of her shortcomings with nearly every breath. Barbara Rappaport plays Frieda with an iron-willed crust and nearly steals several scenes when she recounts her battle with uncooperative bowel movements.
Marjorie also shares her life with her supportive and too good for his own good husband, Dr. Ira Taub, retired allergist who is now active with philanthropic work. Ira, another winning performance by Paul Morella, does his best to buck up his down in the dumps wife in between treating homeless people and lecturing to a growing fan-base. As empty nesters, Marjorie and Ira keep themselves busy with charity work and lectures – she attends them, Ira gives them. But there world is relatively small, contained, and controlled. That is until the stakes are raised in surprising ways when Marjorie’s old childhood neighbor drops in unexpectedly.
The former Lillian Greenblatt, now going by the simpler (read less Jewish) name Lee Green, appears and injects their lives, especially Marjorie’s with a dose of vim, vigor, and va-va-va-voom. Lee, in stark contrast to Marjorie, lives life to the fullest, jet-setting across the globe, and hob-nobbing with a never-ending who’s who of the world’s movers and shakers. To hear Lee tell it, she gave Princess Diana the idea to stop landmines, among her many name-dropping experiences.
THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST’S WIFE”
June 3 – July 5
1529 Sixteenth Street, NW
2 hours with 1 intermission
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $50 – $65
As Lillian/Lee, Lise Bruneau takes charge of the stage like a modern day Mame Dennis – albeit with a heavy dose of sensuality. Tall, blonde, sinewy, Bruneau seduces Marjorie with her worldly ways, and takes the seduction to surprising levels. Watching the interplay between Bruneau, Rome and Morella is worth the price of admission, and seeing how Marjorie and Ira face life after their world has been split open by Lee’s spell is comedy gold.
Director Eleanor Holdridge keeps the pacing swift and has carefully balanced the acting style in a sweet spot between broad farce and a more natural style that suits Busch’s slightly heightened world.
The cast looks great in Frank Labovitz’s highly realized costume designs, and lighting design by Jason Arnold which complements Kemp’s elegant setting with style and adds to the upper class atmosphere. Eric Shimelonis complements all with a vivid sound-scape of jazzy riffs throughout the evening.
After seeing The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, I would like to lobby Mr. Busch to return to these characters someday. By the end, I was not only satisfied by the conclusion, but wanted to stay with Marjorie and Ira to see if they would break out of their Upper West Side cocoon and taste life like their muse Lee. Sounds like an idea for another tale.
The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife by Charles Busch . Directed by Eleanor Holdridge. Featuring Lise Bruneau, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Paul Morella, Barbara Rappaport and Susan Rome . Set Designer: Caite Hevner Kemp . Lighting Designer: Jason Arnold . Composer/Sound designer: Eric Shimelonis . Costume Designer: Frank Labovitz . Props Designer: Deb Thomas . Production Stage Manager: Kate Kilbane . Produced by Theater J . Reviewed by Jeffrey Walker.