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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
The Tale of the Allergist's Wife

" . . .I have done my share of volunteer work. I have chopped the vegetables, driven the meals on wheels, registered people for the vote, made puppets for the retarded, pushed the hospital cart, stuffed the mailing, licked the envelopes, worked the hotline, sewn the quilt, saved the whales, served everyones needs but my own. Well what about my needs, Mother? Who's gonna volunteer to save me?"— Marjorie Taub, the title character, responding to her ever critical mother's suggestion to snap out of her midlife depression by doing volunteer work.
Annette Miller
(Photo credit: Kevin Sprague)
It's been twelve years since I met Marjorie Taub, a fifty something Manhattan matron who should be but isn't happy in her $900,000 condo shared with her devoted doctor husband Ira. While retirement enabled Ira to recapture his youthful do-good spirit by running an allergy clinic for the homeless and mentoring future allergists, Marjorie is on emotional empty since her therapist recently died and, as she puts it, could not be replaced "as easily as a dead Schnauzer."

Besides the lost therapist, Marjorie has other reasons to kvetch and kvell: for one thing her mother is alive and kicking up a daily storm of complaints about her dysfunctional digestion, not to mention Marjorie's shortcomings. Worse yet, while Marjorie has pursued cultural superiority like a pilgrim in search of the holy grail, she has come to recognize herself as a mediocrity. And after an expensive emotional outburst in a Disney store during which she broke numerous Disney figurines, she's retreated into what threatens to be permanent shiva for her unfulfilled life.

Now Marjorie, Dr. Ira and her bowel obsessed mother have resurfaced in the Berkshires. So has Lee the grade school friend who lifts Marjorie out of the dumps but turns into "a sort of a yiddishe Franken stein monster." It's the only revival of the four plays sharing the Elayne P. Bernstein stage this summer. (Parasite Drag is an East Coast premiere, Cassandra Speaks and Satchmo at the Waldorf which comes aboard in August, are world premieres).

For actor-writer Charles Busch, best known for writing archetypal diva plays for himself, The Tale of the Allergist's Wife was his first venture into mainstream comedy territory. While the off-Broadway premiere brught enough critical praise and box office activity by fans of Neil Simon's zinger-filled comedies to move to Broadway, its success was attributable mostly to a cast of actors with a natural flair for the perfect timing critical for this type of satire to work. Linda Lavin transcended the caricature image used to promote Broadway production (a cartoon born-to-shop Marjorie popping out of a shopping bag spattered with banners for assorted cultural interests). Even as her sniffles and kvetches had audiences laughing at her every gesture and expression, they also saw the genuine pain of a woman whose window of artistic possibilities has closed.

While S&C veteran Annette Miller is a fine actress, comic roles aren't her natural forte. Somehow, her Marjorie and the play overall doesn't have quite the sharp bite and impeccable timing it needs. While Lavin needs only to raise an eyebrow or cross her legs to send viewers into gales of laughter, Miller has somehow broadened Marjorie into a more intensely physical cartoon.

The reason the humor comes in spurts rather than nonstop and right through the end may well due to the direction. Tony Simotes has clearly opted to have the comedy played as broadly as possible. Factor in that the play's inherent weakness — the reliance on scatological running gags instead of more solid plotting — Busch's upper Westside specific comedy somehow isn't quite as flavorful in Lenox as it was in New York.

While Miller does go all out with her Marjorie, as does Jan Neuberger as the flamboyant childhood school friend who mysteriously drops back into Marjorie's life, Joan Combs doesn't have quite enough comedic skill to make her scatological humor less tiresome — or make the supposed shock appeal of a little old lady using the F word more shocking. On the other hand Malcolm Ingram comes closest to capturing the nuances that make the retired allergist a wonderful foil for the women, managing to be at once enormously likeable and immodestly self-important. Jules Findlay also resists making Mohammed, the over-educated doorman who facilitates the mish-mash climax, too much of the typical comedy shtick minor character,

Patrick Brennan, the set designer for both Tale of the Allergist's Wife and Parasite Drag not only heightened my appreciation of this theater's much improved production values but deserves a special shoutout for the clever way he adapted the same essential layout to the demands of each piece. Despite my quibbles , The Tale of the Allergist's Wife should find a ready audience among Berkshirites looking for light summer fare.

The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife by Charles Busch
Directed by Tony Simotes
Cast: Annette Miller (Marjorie Taub), Malcolm Ingram (Ira Taub), Joan Coombs(Frieda), Jan Neuberger (Lee), Jules Findlay (Mohammed
Sets: Patrick Brennan
Costumes: Esther Van Eek
Lighting: Steven Ball
Sound Designer: Michael Pfeiffer
Stage Manager: Sandy Cleary
Running Time: 2 hours plus 1 intermission
June 12–September 1
S&Co's Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer June 23rd
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