Kissing Ass and Dropping Names: “The Tale of The Allergist’s Wife”

Photo credit: Mark S. Howard

Photo credit: Mark S. Howard. Their mortgage must be astronomical!

Presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston
By Charles Busch
Directed by Larry Cohen

Nov. 21 – Dec. 20, 2014
Boston, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

Trigger warnings: nontraditional sexy times, liberal politics, poop jokes

(Boston, MA) Just as Busch’s other works, The Tale of The Allergist’s Wife features a diva resplendent in her advancing glamour, highly stylized hilarity, and juxtaposes low brow against high brow comedy. There is an overwhelming amount of name dropping (philosophers, celebrities, book titles, places, historical events) but this is de rigeur for Busch’s work. Allergist’s Wife wastes no time explaining anything but the emotional realities of its characters (which are diverse and complicated). It’s the product one would get if you bleached the crap out of How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, tossed in a quartet of rich Manhattan intelligentsia, and sauteed in a heaping spoonful of scatological humor. Allergist’s Wife is a highly enjoyable production if you can settle your stomach and keep up.  

Marjorie (Marina Re) is suffering a breakdown/existential crises of epic proportions. Her therapist has died and Marjorie copes by melodramatically searching life’s meaning through obscure art and tantrums. Her husband Ira (Joel Colodner), a retired allergist with a charity practice in NYC, does his minimal best to cheer her up. Her mother Frieda (Ellen Colton) is obsessed with her bowels. Were there an awards ceremony for the most significant first world problem, their pity parties would all qualify. They are caught in a rut until Marjorie’s childhood friend Lee (Caroline Lawton) abruptly enters their lives in a swirl of fashion and humanitarian action. Their doorman Mohammed (Zaven Ovian) fixes the chandelier as the drama unfolds.

This visual elements of this production are striking in every aspect. The costumes by Mallory Frers and set by Matt Whiton are done in matching greys, whites, blacks and oxblood reds. The lighting design by Chris Bocchiaro highlights and blends the set with the costumed actors. The design is stark but very posh.

The energy of the play starts high, escalates until it has nowhere to go, and then creeps down to a sustainable level when the actors have oriented themselves to their audience. Re, who plays Marjorie with a subtle flare of glamour and ferocious strength for the rest of the production, is so amped up for the first scene’s rant that is has no arc. This is not a problem for her other tantrums but it is so noticeable for the first that the audience is no longer interested in her angst until Re resets.

Colton is superbly funny as the curmudgeon with a heart of gold plated chalk dust, Frieda. Ovian warmth and excellent comedic timing as Mohammed. Many of the production’s inappropriately funny moments are thanks to them. As the main characters delve into the depths of uncomfortable reality, Colton and Ovian remind the audience that there is much more of life to laugh at than to cry.

To investigate a provocative casting choice: Caroline Lawton is excellent as Lee but she appears to be too young to play the role against her co-actors. Or, Re and Colodner are too mature to play theirs against Lawton. They do not appear to be within the age range and they must in order for major plot points to jive. This isn’t a question of capability but of appropriability. Excellent genes aside, their birth years appear to be too disparate for the actors playing Marjorie and Lee to be contemporaries.

This production of The Tale of The Allergist’s Wife handles the awkward tension of familial anxiety and sexual tension better than New England minister’s wife at Thanksgiving. Director Larry Cohen has found the secret to creating an emotional strain that stays on the stage. The audience could see the cast wriggling in awkwardness but the audience didn’t feel awkward doing it. We could enjoy their discomfort without engaging. Delicious schadenfreude.

If you enjoy the titillating work of Ryan Landry (this Queen does), you will love Charles Busch. It must be noted that the majority of Charles Busch’s plays are extra campy and feature at least one female drag performer. Allergist’s Wife does not. None of the actors are in drag and this is on purpose. Busch did not intend for a drag performer to appear in this show (as he didn’t write a part for himself in this one). Audience members expecting a drag performer will be disappointed.

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