Lyric’s ‘Allergist’s Wife’ would make Busch proud
BOSTON — Theaters around the country are marking the three decades of playwright Charles Busch’s work as part of a partnership between the theatrical licensing company Samuel French, Inc. and Tony Award-winning producer Daryl Roth.
Each of the 20 Busch plays licensed by Samuel French, Inc. is receiving a new regional production, sponsored by the licensing-publishing agency and Roth as part of “30 Years of Charles Busch – A Celebration.”
Among those participating is the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, now performing an updated version of Busch’s 2001 hit “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.”
My daughter was the one who first put Busch onto my radar with the film version of “Psycho Beach Party,” and the national tour of “Allergist’s Wife” was my first live theatrical experience with the playwright.
Many of his early plays featuring drag performers — several of which he starred in — attracted attention and put fannies in seats, but Busch also wanted to show that his work would play with a so-called conventional, mainstream audience, and he achieved that goal with “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” which debuted off-Broadway in 2000, transferred to Broadway and earned him a Tony nomination for Best Play.
Lyric Stage Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos has wisely imported actor/director Larry Coen, who did an excellent job with another of Busch’s works, “The Divine Sister,” at Speakeasy Stage, to direct.
And while Coen has hardly been a shrinking violet in his razor-sharp direction, the controlled chaos of ‘Allergist” never loses touch — as, say, a Christopher Durang piece can do — with the reality of the lives being lived on stage.
Directing Busch, as Coen noted in an article in the Boston Globe, is tricky business. “People have an image, this kind of like ‘craazy’ image, of how to do a Charles Busch play. Charles’s work walks the line where it has to be done with some intensity and sincerity and emotional honesty. I think when people produce the work of Charles Busch when he’s not involved, oftentimes they miss those points, and they kind of try to make it a romp. And it’s not a romp.”
It may not be a romp, but the characters in the tale can make it seem so. The life of Marjorie Taub (Marina Re), is filled with gallery openings, lectures and obscure theater performances, the kind of Upper West Side woman Stephen Sondheim had in mind when he wrote the song “The Ladies Who Lunch” for Elaine Stritch in “Company.”
She is depressed and in a funk after a recent meltdown that saw her destroy several expensive figurines at the Disney Store.
That worries Dr. Ira Taub (Joel Colodner), an allergist who has retired from his practice, and now volunteers at a clinic he founded and also teaches, and is happy to be recognized for his “selfless“ philanthropy. Colodner (“Imagining Madoff” and “Our Town”) is one of the Boston area’s most versatile and consistently excellent actors and he grounds the production with his spot-on portrayal.
Living just down the hall is Marjorie’s widowed mother Frieda (Ellen Colton) who adores her doctor son-in-law Ira and engages in titanic clashes with Marjorie, which usually end with Frieda’s bowels hilariously in turmoil.
Into this toxic brew comes an unnerving visitor — a tall, attractive woman named Lee (Caroline Lawton), who turns out to be an old friend of Marjorie’s named Lillian Greenblatt.
Because it takes Ira and Frieda so long to meet Lee, Ira and Frieda begin to believe she doesn’t exist, and are every more worried about Marjorie’s grip on reality.
Lee appears to be a world traveler fund-raiser for an amorphous rights group whose incessant name-dropping is a running gag that Busch milks mercilessly.
Before long, she has moved into the house and begins to uncork dangerous, unnerving ideas about friendship and “sharing” which rock Marjorie and Ira out of their slumbering existence, and shake the foundations of their marriage.
But Lee begins to diverge off the beaten path when she starts describing lunch with Mel Gibson, suggests trips to Germany and eventually gets branded a “golem,” (Hebrew for a magical, artificial creature) as Ira sobs “The golem is out of control!” and Frieda is so disturbed she asks “Are you a Jew for Jesus?”
To top it off, Lee manages to wangle $5,000 out of Frieda for her rights group, which by the way may or may not be anti-Semitic.
There will be a hilarious confrontation between Lee and the family. The entire cast and Coen are at the top of their game, wringing every last laugh out of Busch’s well-constructed piece. “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” is fast, funny, well-acted and well-directed, and an excellent alternative to holiday fare.
The Lyric Stage Company production of “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” by Charles Busch. Directed by Larry Coen. Scenic design by Matt Whiton. Costume design by Mallory Frers. Lighting Design by Chris Bocchiaro. Sound design by Jack Staid. Through Dec. 20 at Lyric Stage Company. http://www.lyricstage.com.