Corrections or additions?
These reviews by Simon Saltzman were prepared for the January 10,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `The Allergist’s Wife’
The Manhattan Theater Club has hit upon a formula for
success this season. Having moved "Proof" from Off-Broadway
to Broadway, they have now launched another new American play on the
Great White Way. Call it a formula comedy, Charles Busch’s "The
Tale of the Allergist’s Wife," is full of laughs, that is until
it goes off the track, which is the entire second act. If you read
the shows’ grosses in Variety, you know that both plays are doing
fine, suggesting that there is interest in non-musical plays providing
they have what it takes. While I have plenty of enthusiasm for
Busch’s play, which is exceedingly long on kvetching and short on
kontent, was a problem for me.
This is not to imply that seasoned star Linda Lavin doesn’t kvetch
brilliantly, as Marjorie, a middle-aged, unfulfilled New School
and Upper West Side Jewish matron and would-be new-age existential
author. When Marjorie, who seems unable to lift herself out of her
chronic melancholy when her therapist commits suicide, wallows in
self-pity, wrestles with the philosophy of Hermann Hesse, and vents
over the ugliness of the crystal chandelier that the doorman has just
hung in her apartment. Listen to Lavin rant and rave for five minutes
and you’ll know why therapists are prone to suicide.
Marjorie is at her lowest when the doorbell rings. Her symptomatic
depression and hysterical mood swings, while it doesn’t appear
to either Ira (given a nicely understated performance by Tony Roberts)
her easy-going but nominally concerned retired doctor husband, provide
the juice for Lavin’s tour-de-force performance. Marjorie’s angst
also doesn’t seem to bother Frieda (Shirl Bernheim), her self-absorbed
foul-mouthed mother, who is morbidly pre-occupied with the function
of her bowels. Marjorie’s condition is suddenly and miraculously
around the day a chic and ingratiating woman arrives at their
It isn’t surprising that Marjorie is, at first, cautious, but soon
thrilled when she discovers the woman is Lee Green (Michele Lee),
a friend from childhood formerly Lillian Greenblat, whom she hasn’t
seen in many years. Lee, it seems, is a world-traipsing woman of many
achievements, mostly to do with hobnobbing with the rich and famous.
She takes delight in name dropping with casual aplomb, and as such
proves an inspiration to Marjorie. Michele Lee is particularly amusing
as the intriguing and carefully insinuating guest who is invited by
Marjorie to stay a while in their $900,000 co-op (smartly designed
by Santo Loquasto). In Act II, when Lee pursues a course of crafty
manipulation and sexual seduction, that takes the easily bamboozled
Marjorie, Ira, and Frieda by surprise, things begin to get less funny,
more heavy-handed, and even a bit preposterous.
To the extent that mid-life Marjorie is a dizzyingly complex
as intellectually needy as she is emotionally restless, the comedy
has a lot to say, but despite Lavin’s bravura blues and Bernheim’s
too-true to be tolerated performance, it becomes mired in vulgarity
and tastelessness. But under the super-charged direction of M.T.C.
artistic director Lynne Meadow, "The Tale of the Allergist’s
ends up packing more than a few comic punches, even if they land
on the tookis.
— Simon Saltzman
$30 to $70. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.
Two stars: Maybe you should have stayed home.
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