Lyric Stage's "Allergist's Wife": Feinting Couches

Caroline Lawton & Marina Re in "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife"

As audience members entered the Lyric Stage Company’s theatre to attend their production of “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife”, they were promisingly greeted with the strains of the background music from the (non-musical) film “Auntie Mame”, a sly underscoring referencing the real childhood of playwright Charles Busch. His own Aunt Lillian literally altered his life by enrolling him in the High School for the Arts, quite reminiscent of Mame Dennis and her nephew Patrick. At the same time theatergoers were presented with a typical New York monochromatic setting with not one but too fainting couches. (There will be a lot of feinting going on later, but it would be a spoiler to elaborate). This, Busch’s first attempt at mainstream writing, was a huge success, first briefly in 2000 Off-Broadway, then on Broadway for a substantial run (777 performances), earning a Tony nomination for Best Play. The author has updated the play for this version with allusions to more current celebrities. What hasn’t been updated is the disappointingly sophomoric and scatological level of the wit on display.

The story centers around middle aged matron Marjorie Taub (Marina Re), first looking like an unmade bed, who feels her life will never be more than mediocre though she fills her days with all manner of artistic and intellectual pursuits. Her doctor husband Ira (Joel Colodner) is a champion of homeless people but ignorant of her needs, and her constantly complaining mother Frieda (Ellen Colton) lives all too close, just down the hall in the co-op. Enter an unexpected visitor from Marjorie’s childhood, Lee (Caroline Lawton). Lee’s abrupt arrival impacts everyone (even the already impacted Frieda) as she settles in for what appears to be permanent residency. The sole other character, the doorman Mohammed (Zaven Ovian) proves pivotal when some plot twists (frankly obvious to anyone paying attention to the lengthy set-up) arise. Suffice it to say that it’s a very ethnocentric (i.e. Jewish), very New York type of play, with several hysterical lines and lots of low humor.

The cast has been directed by Larry Coen toward madcap mugging and scenery-digesting, which may be entirely appropriate for such basically sit-com material. The technical credits are up to what one would expect given Lyric’s well-established reputation, from the Scenic Design by Matt Whiton, to the Costume Design by Mallory Frers, Lighting Design by Chris Bocchiaro and Sound Design by Jack Staid. Whether this is one’s personal cup of tea depends on how hilarious one considers what passes for funny writing in the usual fare on the tube these days. As Marjorie says to the doorman at the wimpy conclusion of the play, cooking is “both simple and difficult…like so much in life”. And comedy, too.

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