Excellent acting supports strong characters in Pa. Playhouse's
'The Allergist's Wife'
By Dave Howell
SPECIAL TO THE MORNING CALL
Dave Howell is a freelance
February 2, 2010
''The Tale of the
Allergist's Wife'' is a ''straight'' play for Charles Busch, who also
wrote ''Vampire Lesbians of Sodom'' and ''Psycho Beach Party.''
''Straight'' has a dual meaning in this case for a man who calls himself
an ''actor, playwright and drag queen.''
But don't confuse this
comedy/drama, directed by Gary Boyer at the Pennsylvania Playhouse, with
something by, let's say, Neil Simon. And don't bring the kids.
The plot begins in the Manhattan apartment of middle-aged Marjorie
(Nancy Zrake-Daniels) and Ira (Dean Hiatt). Ira is an allergist who is
adored by everyone, as he often points out to his family. He has retired
to teach and open a free clinic.
His wife Marjorie has just had a
mini-breakdown after the death of her therapist, and destroyed a few
breakable characters in a Disney store. Her life has consisted of
volunteering, reading philosophy and going to cultural events. None of
it seems worthwhile or raises her low self-esteem. The latter is not
helped by Frieda (Jan Kleckner), her Jewish mother from hell.
Frieda gets most of the laughs with her talk of bowel movements,
particularly while others are eating, and with her unexpected use of
profanity. These parts are not as crude as they might sound, since they
are well integrated into the plot.
Marjorie gets a mistaken visit
from a real estate agent, who turns out to be her childhood friend Lee
(Jan Labellarte Beatty). The two soon become best friends again. The
charming Lee has the glamorous life that Marjorie lacks, and brings her
back to life.
It soon becomes clear, at least to the audience,
that Lee has too many stories about famous people to be believed, and
she does not seem to have a permanent address. She winds up living with
Marjorie and Ira. Then she comes on to Ira. And Marjorie. At the same
The shocked couple gear up to ask Lee to leave. The
confrontation forces them, and even Frieda, to face up to themselves.
But there is a happy ending.
The acting, both in the comedic and
dramatic parts, is excellent, including Billy Ehrlacher in the smaller
role of Mohammed the doorman. Zrake-Daniels as Marjorie, in a perfect
New York City accent, lifts the audience's spirits as she slowly comes
out of her depression. Hiatt, as Ira, expertly balances decency and
self-satisfaction. And Beatty, as Lee, proves that you can be well past
your 20s and be remarkably seductive.
Some might find this play
to be just an update of the naughty comedies of the past that exist only
to titillate their audiences. I think there is enough character study
and social commentary to make it worthwhile. Indeed, I am waiting for
''Vampire Lesbians of Sodom'' to hit town.
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