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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
The Tale of the Allergist's Wife
By Elyse Sommer
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.
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