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

"Proof,"

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

habitue

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

life-threatening

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

turned

around the day a chic and ingratiating woman arrives at their

apartment.

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

character,

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

Wife,"

ends up packing more than a few comic punches, even if they land

mostly

on the tookis.

— Simon Saltzman

The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, Ethel Barrymore Theater

$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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