April 2002

Author Charles Busch
Price range $30 - $70

Ethel Barrymore Theatre 
243 West 47th Street
New York

Potomac Stages Broadway 

The Tale of the Allergists Wife

How very pleasant to find a new laugh-filled comedy that doesn’t seem to harbor a mean spirit. Yes, this fun and funny romp draws from some stereotypes about wealthy New Yorkers. But it is gentle poking fun with a knowing wink, not a superior putdown such as seems to have been so much in vogue of late. As a result, each of the four main characters are nice-to-know people, even if their foibles are the stuff of punch lines.

Storyline: The wife of a newly retired successful physician is suffering a particularly strong mid-life crisis, stuck in depression following the loss of her therapist. Into her life comes a long-lost friend from high school who seems to have done all sorts of exciting things and met all sorts of interesting people, living the fascinating life she had hoped would be hers. She sparks the wife out of her depression and stimulates her to share the exciting life. But is it right for her and does it involve a rejection her own past including the family and its values that have dominated her adult life?

​The play was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play when it opened in 2000 and there were nominations for two of its leading ladies – Linda Lavin who originated the role of the wife and Michele Lee as the friend. Valerie Harper – TV’s Rhoda who has appeared in over half a dozen Broadway shows – took over the role. At the end of May Rhea Perlman (TV’s Cheers) will take over the role as Harper kicks off a national touring version of the show. Michele Lee, who has strong Broadway credentials of her own, stayed with the cast until now but is also leaving for the tour and will be replaced by Marilu Henner. The original husband, Tony Roberts, also leaves for the tour. He will be replaced by Richard Kind.

Some comedies are simply strings of jokes and others are funny stories that draw chuckles but no real belly laughs. This one, on the other hand, manages both. The story is intriguing and amusing while the dialogue sparks real laughs. Many of those laughs come from the lines Author Charles Busch gives the wife’s mother and the wife’s reactions to them. Indeed, at some points you wonder why the title of the play isn’t The Tale of The Allergists’ Wife’s Mother. He has found a very good balance between comic storytelling and joke writing although a few of his scenes seem to last one or two lines longer than they should so he can land yet one more punch line.

This is a one-set comedy. But what a set! Santo Loquasto created a prototypical upper west side apartment – referred to in the script as "a $900,000 condo" – with an eye for telling detail. The result is an apartment that looks for all the world like the home of its occupants: probably professionally decorated quite a few years earlier and then augmented with family treasures. The strong design values of the production continue with costumes that tell a lot about each character and how he or she is feeling for each scene. That the wife’s change in mental attitude is reflected in her wardrobe is not surprising, but the deft touch with which the husband, the friend and even the wife’s mother’s moods and position are captured in Ann Roth’s designs is impressive. Being Broadway, the production goes a bit overboard with a fully orchestrated incidental music score.

Written by Charles Busch. Directed by Lynne Meadow. Design: Santo Loquasto (set) Ann Roth (costumes) Christopher Akerlind (lights) Bruce Ellman and Brian Ronan (sound). Cast: Valerie Harper, Michele Lee, Tony Roberts, Shirl Bernheim/Rose Arrick, Anil Kumar.