On the surface, Charles Busch's "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" is a clever comedy set in the living room/kitchen of an upscale apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. In addition to its humor, though, it comes with a heavy dose of irony, giving it more substance than one normally would expect. San Jose Stage Company pays close attention to both aspects of the play thanks to Dianna Shuster's sharp direction and her five-person cast's clear delineations of character. The show was a hit on Broadway and visited San Francisco's large Curran Theatre in 2002. It benefits from the smaller San Jose venue -- sleek set by Richard C. Ortenblad with lighting by Michael Walsh, sound by Robert A. Havlice and costumes by Michele Wynne -- which allows more intimacy between actors and audience.
The title character, the middle-aged Marjorie Taub (Linda Ayres-Frederick), is in the throes of depression following the death of her therapist. Her longtime husband, Ira Taub (Kevin Blackton), is a successful allergist who has retired from his practice but who still does extensive pro bono work along with teaching and lecturing. Marjorie's mother, Frieda (Cec Levinson), who lives down the hall, is a frequent visitor who seems obsessed with her physical problems, especially matters of the lower digestive tract.Their equilibrium is upset when Lee Green (Jessica Powell), Marjorie's former childhood friend, unexpectedly shows up and quickly becomes her best friend again after regaling Marjorie with tales of her travels and her encounters with celebrities. Instead of moping on the couch in her bathrobe all day, Marjorie dresses up and goes shopping and partakes of lectures and other intellectual activities.
Although they're happy to see Marjorie released from her funk, Ira and Frieda are suspicious because they've never met Lee. When they finally do, she insinuates herself into their lives and the guest room. At first Ira enjoys her gourmet cooking, but she wears out her welcome -- but not after some sexual and other types of shenanigans. Helping to firm their resolve is the building's doorman, Mohammed (Tarek Khan), an Iraqi who is familiar with the organization for which Lee raises money.
The irony in the play is that even though Lee is a blatant fraud, she also has some accurate, if unflattering insights about Marjorie, Ira and Frieda. Thus she makes them think about what they're doing with their lives and helps point them in a better direction. In the process, playwright Busch gives the audience a healthy portion of laughter along with thought-provoking substance. Both are served up well in this fine production.
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