YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Weary of being just the 'Allergist's Wife'

In a staging at Laguna Playhouse, a bored wife seeks more from life after her therapist dies.

June 01, 2005|Rob Kendt | Special to The Times

We think we know the type: the rich, middle-aged wife with too much time on her hands and frosting in her coiffure, who assuages her barely concealed ennui with lectures, museums, volunteer work and her default painkiller, shopping.

Add some self-dramatizing literary allusions and you've got Marjorie Taub (Randee Heller), the brittle, effervescent lead of Charles Busch's frothy New York sitcom "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife," now in a just-about-right revival at the Laguna Playhouse.

But the plentiful laughs here aren't all at Marjorie's expense. Indeed, the best thing about Busch's uneven play is that Marjorie emerges as something stronger, and funnier, than a mere caricature.

Yes, she opens the play in a state of luxuriant gold-lame-robed depression, attributed to the recent death of her longtime therapist; true, she once wrote a novel she describes as a Pynchon-esque "phantasmagoria" in which the lead characters were Plato and Helen Keller. And when she bursts through the door of her spacious Upper West Side co-op bearing shopping bags and a brochure from her latest Butoh workshop, we have no problem seeing through her ladies-who-lunch pretenses.

If we can detect in these flourishes faint traces of the downtown drag-diva Busch, who gave us "Die! Mommy! Die!" and "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom," we also recognize in Marjorie the sort of feisty, fabulous self-possession that Busch brings to all his female creations.

These would also include Lee Green (Suzanne Ford), nee Lillian Greenblatt, a long-lost childhood friend who mysteriously reappears in the midst of Marjorie's gloom, kindling her imagination and the plot. A globe-trotting, self-styled Holly Golightly who claims she always travels "with a wok and three sets of false eyelashes," Lee at first seems like an idealized version of the woman Marjorie would have been had she not married overachieving allergist Ira (Barry Pearl) and installed her meddling mother, Frieda (Sue Ozeran), down the hall.

She also seems, to everyone except Marjorie, too good to be true. Not content to be pushed aside without a fight, her husband and her mother gang up on Marjorie in a slam-bang first act closer.

The rest of the play, for all its twists and turns, never revisits this comic high. The second act sets out to test Marjorie's true loyalties and reassert her core priorities with a moral scorecard that will feel familiar to any half-hour television viewer. Busch even awkwardly introduces geopolitics and terrorism, cloyingly invoking Israel as a symbol of what these secular Jews still have to believe in.

But none of these late-coming missteps takes away the pleasure of Marjorie's high-spirited company. In Heller's poised performance, even Marjorie's low points are a high; we can see why Pearl's sweet Ira sticks around. As the jet-setting Lee, Ford suggests a slightly seedier Marlo Thomas. And Ozeran makes a crustily matter-of-fact monster mother, though for every punch line she brilliantly throws away she loses another one altogether. Daniel Tatar plays a tender, indulgent doorman.

Director Joel Bishoff makes a solicitous host for this champagne brunch of a play, with the lovely Central Park vista behind Bruce Goodrich's set reassuring us that for all its self-inflicted angst, this "Allergist's Wife" is headed for a fairy-tale ending. And that's nothing to sneeze at.


'The Tale of the Allergist's Wife'

Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays.

Ends: June 26

Price: $30 to $54

Contact: (949) 497-2787 or

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Los Angeles Times Articles