Bowie Community Theatre’s Tale of the Allergist’s Wife
A little Neil Simon and a little Seinfeld, it’s a lively summer diversion.
When The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife debuted on Broadway in 2000, one reviewer called its three leads the only three reasons to see Charles Busch’s breakthrough Tony-nominee. It’s not hard to see why.
We are supposed to pity, or at least find laughably pitiful, the plight of poor Marjorie Taub, who’s in the midst of a midlife crisis that came to a head in a tantrum of retail terrorism at the Disney Store. In The Bowie Community Theater’s production Christine Conroy Smith takes Marjorie’s woes so seriously she has misses the comic timing and absurdity the role must have. It’s takes the talent of a Linda Lavin to make Marjorie more amusing than pathetic.
Still, there are some hilarious moments in this twisted tale of modern angst.
A dilettante and poseur, Marjorie feels like “a cage in search of a bird” with her children grown and her therapist recently deceased. She has an antagonistic relationship with her mother, Frieda (Hillary Mazer), an “equal opportunity F*&% You-er” who is too constipated to care about anything but her own bowel movements. Her sympathetic husband of 32 years, Ira (Tim Sayles), is also part of the problem, having eclipsed his own successful career as an allergist with an even more successful retirement as medical benefactor. Only the doorman, Mohammed (Uday Berry), seems to relate. Then long-lost childhood friend Lee (Edye Smith) materializes on her threshold as the embodiment of everything Marjorie wishes she could be: a free spirited and glamorous name-dropper with a resume like the Yellow Pages and uncommon powers of seduction.
Over the course of two and a quarter hours, the plot strays from Marjorie’s initial problem to unheralded complications when the mysterious Lee insinuates herself into the Traubs’ private lives. We’re talking really private complications, PG-13 headed for the Playboy Channel complications with international security overtones.
The supporting cast does a fine job humanizing this carnival ride of a tale. Sayles, who recently starred in The Foreigner and Bloody Murder, animates his every scene with charisma that turns lines into conversations. Smith is the Queen Bee par excellence, and Mazer has fine-tuned the art of crassness.
Technically speaking, the show makes no special demands, but the seduction choreography is smooth as satin.
For all the cast’s hard work, though, this production feels off from the start. The set looks more Connecticut 1980s than 2000’s New York with furnishings more Ethan Allen than Pottery Barn. The script makes clear that it’s the dawn of the Internet age, yet the women wear contemporary fashions like skinny-leg jeans.
This pretentious play about a pretentious woman is most likely to appeal to urban intellectuals familiar with the works of heavy-weights like Hesse, Nietzsche and Kafka who nevertheless agree with Lee’s assessment that preoccupation with their ideas is “cultural masturbation.” A little Neil Simon and a little Seinfeld, it’s a lively summer diversion.