With THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST’S WIFE (playing through Dec. 20th), Lyric Stage joins in on the celebration of thirty years of Charles Busch’s quirky, off the wall comedies. Busch specializes in wacky characters that are often cross dressed or (as in THE THIRD STORY) rendered embryonic. His fans adore VAMPIRE LESBIANS OF SODOM and his wild and wooly PSYCHO BEACH PARTY.
He’s a lot more main stream with the ALLERGIST’S WIFE, although the peripheral material around the characters is aimed firmly below the belt. (The jokes about intestinal distress are non-stop.) Busch offers some amusing constructs, like dueling depressives (mother and daughter) on identical couches across from each other, arguing about who is the biggest loser…or Busch’s inspired idea of an “accidental suicide” in a Disney Store.
Director Larry Coen has a cast of experienced actors but alas, there’s no comic escalation to be had when everyone starts at Def Con 5. If all the characters are shouting at fever pitch from the start, there’s really no place to go. (Busch fatigue set in to my audience even before intermission.) Also compromising matters is Busch’s own inability to commit: The characters are in place for hilarity to ensue when Busch hedges his bets about who is conning whom and who imagined what.
Poor Margerie (Marina Re) wants meaning in her life. Her husband, the allergist, is still in demand even though he’s retired, saving lives by spraying cortisone up the deviated septa of stricken New Yorkers. Joel Colodner, as the expert on wheezes and sneezes, swells with pride at the very mention of the rescues. Ellen Colton, too, is a pro at milking a laugh but Busch doesn’t give her a lot to work with: She has to find the comic gold in bouts of diarrhea which I don’t think is metallurgically possible. But her double takes are divine.
Caroline Lawton is a whirlwind as Marjorie’s childhood friend (I did the math and I don’t think that is numerically possible) but Lawton keeps them all afloat with her excess of buoyant energy. Zaven Ovian is delightful as the extremely helpful doorman but come to think of it, he doesn’t put in much time in the lobby. The secret to a Busch comedy is not to think concretely. Usually there are so many balls in the air, that you don’t have time to think—but Busch has slowed the action down in the ALLERGIST’S WIFE and there’s the rub. You begin to ponder all the working (or non-working) parts. As they say in the ear, nose and throat business, that’s something to sneeze at.