Stellar cast brightens MJTC stage in ‘Allergist’s Wife’

Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s production includes Twin Cities’ favorites Sally Wingert and Linda Kelsey

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016...5:54 pm

There are a lot of Jewish allergists (male and female) in the Twin Cities. You’d have to work hard not to know one. Hence, you probably know the wife of one or another of them. Is that enough reason to go to see The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife opening Feb. 13 at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company?

I doubt it, but there are many, many other reasons you should go.

Reason 1: The play itself was nominated for numerous theatrical awards, including the Tony for Best Play of 2000.

The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, written by Charles Busch, is set in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a location without equal in the Twin Cities, but one might call the protagonist, Marjorie, a “Jewish Edina housewife” and get away with it. Not only is Marjorie suffering her own mid-life crisis but she has to deal with her equally New York Jewish mother, Frieda.

Who can save her? I’ll be a spoiler and let you know that it’s her mysterious childhood friend, who might remind theater lovers of the eponymous character in George Kaufman and Moss Hart’s famous comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner.

Is being the wife of an allergist really material for a Broadway play? According to a Twin Cities woman who fits this category but prefers to stay anonymous, “there’s not anything funny I can think of really; just the usual: yellow gunk in nose is a virus, clear gunk could be allergy. To me, it doesn’t ever sound funny, especially when they wake us up in the middle of the night.”

Clearly, Busch had some different ideas when he developed this script.

Reason 2: The original cast members were major constellations in the Broadway and television zodiac, including Linda Lavin and Michelle Lee, both of whom were nominated for Tony Awards.

The MJTC production gathers the Twin Cities version of these brilliant actors with its stellar cast: the marvelous and ubiquitous Sally Wingert as Marjorie; Linda Kelsey, well-known and Emmy Award-nominated television actress and stalwart of St. Paul’s Park Square Theater (among others) as Frieda; and Maggie Bearmon Pistner, a favorite of both Twin Cities audiences (her 2013 one-woman show, They Called Her Captain, sold out) and the local critics, as the offbeat friend Lee Green. The allergist himself is played by MJTC veteran David Coral.

Not only are these all wonderful actors, but Twin Cities theatergoers can feel right at home — even if the action takes place in New York — with a cast of such good “friends.”

Bringing this all together is one of the deans of the Twin Cities theater community, director Warren C. Bowles. For more than 40 years, Bowles has brought words on paper alive by guiding talented actors to reflect his imagination and vision of what playwrights who wrote in years past or even just yesterday can say to our community. Such a treasure is Bowles that in 2004, Mayor R.T. Rybak proclaimed a “Warren Caesar Bowles Day” in Minneapolis.

Kelsey has experience playing Jewish mothers. She played such a role in the MJTC production of Handle with Care in 2013. However, Kelsey finds no similarities between the two roles.

“This is a rather ‘salty’ character I’m playing,” Kelsey told the AJW. “Frieda doesn’t mind a few expletives here and there. She’s a bit of a thorn in her daughter’s side — a bit of a stereotype. I find her quite amusing.”

Kelsey says that she’s done more than a bit of research into the various Yiddish terms that she uses in the script.

Reason 3 to see The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife: Why would you pass up the opportunity to see Wingert, a multiple winner of the Ivey Award, in the MJTC’s intimate performance space?

Wingert, who was last seen in MJTC’s award-winning production of Rose in 2014, is coming off an incredibly successful 2015-2016 season already. Her performance in Theatre Latté Da’s production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was met with overwhelming praise from every critic in town. And she’s just completed another acclaimed performance in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Park Square Theatre.

In The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, Wingert doesn’t see her character as an object of comedy, necessarily.

“I don’t think that a funny character always sees herself as funny,” Wingert said. “Marjorie takes herself very seriously. When an agent of change comes into her life, all hell breaks loose and she adopts a new outlook on her life. But, frankly, after the two vastly different roles I’ve played in the past year, it’s a pleasure to try being someone new and contemporary, and someone closer to who I am.”

Now that I’ve given you three good reasons to see The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, I challenge AJW readers to find a good reason why not to go. The only excuse that can be accepted for this show is that you’re allergic to it!