by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre (ABET) opened its fourth show of the season at the Adel Grage Cultural Center. This outstanding comedy will be on stage through April 2. For reservations and additional information call 249-7177 or visit www.abettheatre.com
The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife by Charles Busch is probably the most cutting edge production ever staged by ABET. What else could you expect from the flamboyant Charles Busch who is a prolific playwright, an actor, and a female impersonator extraordinaire? However, this play is notable because it was written for a mainstream audience, unlike others such as Die Mommie Die, Psycho Beach Party, and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. The Broadway production ran for a very respectable 777 performances, which is excellent for a non-musical. On top of that it was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play!
It is indeed the tale of the Marjorie, the wife of Dr. Ira Taub, who is a retired doctor, an allergist of course; they live in a comfortable uptown Manhattan condo. Marjorie is enamored with German writers, and pursuing all things cultural like concerts, lectures, and museum openings. She tried being a novelist but her manuscript featuring Helen Keller and Plato as the principal characters was rejected by over thirty publishers. Now, she is in the midst of a mid-life depression, listless and purposeless; her therapist recently died and cannot as she says “be replaced as easily as a dead Schnauzer.” During a visit to a Disney gift shop, she experienced an emotional breakdown, and became a “retail terrorist, demolishing a number of expensive porcelain character figurines.
Husband Ira acknowledges her problems but is so busy stroking his own ego with his volunteer work and lectures that he is totally ineffectual. Frieda, Marjorie’s elderly mobility-impaired mother lives down the hall in her own condo. Frieda isn’t much help either, since she’s preoccupied with concerns about constipation, bowel movements and suppositories.
Then, with the ring of a supposedly wrong doorbell, things change as an attractive mystery woman Marjorie’s age enters her life; we learn she and Marjorie had been close friends as children. Lee Green is an extraordinary adventuress, who has been everywhere and met everyone and just to drop a few names as she did constantly, they included the Nixons, Princess Di, Henry Kissinger, Lennie Bruce, Andy Warhol and Jack Kerouac. There were more, but who can write that fast? And she’s visited many, many exciting places and contributed to any number of salutary projects, for example she was there when the Berlin Wall came down! She brings a renewed zest to Marjorie’s life, along with sexual entanglement. Have you got the idea that Lee is a colorful, crazy, and wild character? Too interesting to be real? Want more details? See the play!
One final character is Mohammed, the condominium’s doorman, played by ABET newcomer Diego Aragona. This smaller role adds comedic moments, and is pivotal to the play’s resolution.
This is probably the most demanding role for Gretta Russe in her many performances on local stages and she is marvelous as Marjorie. Ms Russe captures the vacillating emotional rollercoaster ride of this character who, I guess we will tell, finds redemption in the end.
Leonard Alterman is excellent as Dr. Ira, a self-important individual who has found his niche in life, and has enjoyed 32 years of marriage to Marjorie. Alterman’s approach to the character reminded me of the TV comedian Bob Newhart, always trying to just take things nice and easy.
Phyllis Rice’s performance as the Jewish mother Frieda was award-winning, that is for sure. Hilarious is the word to describe Frieda’s candor which made her an audience favorite. Rice says as much with her delightful facial gestures as she does with words. Be forewarned, you are going to hear bodily function jokes.
Libby Maxwell is outstanding as the fast-talking world traveler who worms her way into the lives of the family members before they know what is happening, with crisp dialogue that kept us guessing all evening long about what was next.
No one is credited with the costumes, so we assume the cast used clothing from their personal wardrobes, with the approval of Director Ceila Frank.
The set by Jen Fortune is in gold and maroons and includes a breakfast bar, an overstuffed couch, bookshelves, and a view of the Manhattan skyline. As Mohammed indicates, it is designed, perhaps, to depict “romantic opulence.”
This is a very funny play and Director Celia Frank has done a noteworthy task of directing, and was especially good at toning down the sexual situations and language that Charles Busch is known for. However, the play is for adults only, so leave the kids at home.
Bryan Frank designed the lighting and sound, with Katie Berry acting as the technician. The pre-show and scene change music was appropriate to the script. Beth Caudell is the stage manager with Rachel Allen as her assistant.
The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife is a fast-moving story that holds the audience’s attention completely beginning with the opening curtain. And the audience laughed at every twist and turn.
THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST'S WIFE
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM