"The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at Highland Park Center Theatre

Cherry and Spoon
Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sometimes theater can be profound, thought-provoking, or even life-changing, and sometimes it's just highly enjoyable entertainment. There's room for both, and Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company's production of the 2000 Tony-nominated Broadway play The Tale of the Allergist's Wife falls squarely in the latter category. It's a chance to laugh at ridiculous people in this very funny play, presented with sharp direction by Warren C. Bowles and fantastic comedic performances by the five-person cast. The theater at the Highland Park Community Center was packed on a Wednesday night, and a good time was had by all. Sometimes that's everything you need.

Marjorie Taub (Sally Wingert) is the poster child for first world problems. She lives in a beautiful apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhatten, her successful doctor (allergist) husband (David Coral) has recently retired so he can spend more time teaching and volunteering, her adult daughters have moved away and are successful in their lives, and her mother (Linda Kelsey) lives just down the hall and frequently visits with news of her bowel movements. Upon the death of her therapist, Marjorie is plunged into a depression, or perhaps more accurately, a severe feeling of boredom and uselessness. Her only friend seems to be her doorman (Charles Goitia), with whom she shares her love of reading (her favorite - Hermann Hesse's Siddharta). Into this malaise steps her childhood friend Lee, who has led the most fabulous life. She's been everywhere, done everything, and met everyone, from Andy Warhol to Princess Diana. Lee shakes up Marjorie's life first to her delight, and then to her dismay as things get a little weird. In the end Marjorie realizes maybe her boring beautiful life isn't so bad after all.

This hilariously fun romp through the lives of privileged people is a joy to watch. Everyone is fantastic in this cast that is a true ensemble. Special mention must be made of Linda Kelsey (our very own TV star come home), almost unrecognizable as a seemingly frail but strongly opinionated older woman with a walker and too many colonoscopies. The action takes place entirely in the Taubs' apartment which, thanks to designer Michael Hoover, feels every bit the sleek Manhattan apartment.

Apparently the word has gotten out how funny this play is, or else it's the star power, for The Tale of the Allergist's Wife is nearly sold out for the run (through March 6). In fact, they just added an additional performance. So get your tickets soon and head down to St. Paul's Highland Park area to join the fun.

Minnesota Jewish Theatre's 'Allergist's Wife' is pitch-perfect absurdity

"The Allergist's Wife" isn't great drama, but Minnesota Jewish Theatre makes it wickedly funny.

by Graydon Royce
Star Tribune
FEBRUARY 16, 2016 — 1:03PM

What a great feeling, to watch the lights come up at intermission and murmur, “I can’t wait to see how this comes out.”

Playwright Charles Busch gets us in that frame of mind with the first act of “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” a delightfully absurd slice cut from the life of one Marjorie Taub. She is a neurotic, a dilettante, a pretender, a poseur paralyzed by her own grand thinking. She is one of those kvetching acquaintances who feels she deserves more from her unfulfilled existence.

And she is the reason we are watching Busch’s wacky play, now running at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company in St. Paul.

In her comfortable Manhattan condo, Marjorie (Sally Wingert) lolls on the couch and whines. Her husband, Ira (David Coral), is too wrapped up in his ego to offer help. Her mother, Frieda (Linda Kelsey), defines a successful day by whether she can open a foil-wrapped suppository and move her bowels.

Then one day, a childhood friend (Maggie Bearmon Pistner) appears at Marjorie’s door. Referring to herself in the third person, “Lee Green” regales Marjorie with tales more fantastic than real life. There was her cameo in Rainer Fassbinder’s “Veronika Voss,” the banquet at which she met Princess Diana (who had overheard her speaking with Henry Kissinger). Oh, and there was Andy, the pop artist who loved how young Lee would stack Campbell’s soup cans.

Yes, Lee has done it all and she now inspires Marjorie to get off her couch, hang up the house robe and seize the world.

Soon Lee’s whirlwind personality has seduced Ira and Frieda, too, and we wonder with great anticipation how playwright Busch (best known for “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom”) is going to tie up all these loose ends.

To our chagrin, that intermission feeling turned out to be too good to be true. Busch sends us off with an odd clunker of a sinister twist in the second act that reminds us how difficult it can be to cinch the deal and deliver a fabulous script. Too bad.

Nevertheless, director Warren Bowles and his cast play this story with such a deft touch and dust-dry wit that we can forgive the script foibles.

Wingert convinces us to take seriously a woman who believes she is living the life of Siddhartha. Pistner never puts on an air of self-importance. After all, doesn’t everyone have an affair with Günter Grass? Kelsey disappears into the frail but still profane Frieda. Coral mostly bumbles as Ira.

Bowles has let all the ridiculous insanity express itself, while keeping the sensibility of the play as natural as real life. It is so understated, deliciously funny and committed.

Michael Hoover’s set, simple yet stylish, is the fullest design in many years for Minnesota Jewish Theatre, and Liz Josheff Busa distinguishes each character with the proper costuming.

Is this a great script? Far from it. Yet Bowles and his actors relish the abundant humor, and we are treated to a lively entertainment.

In ‘Allergist’s Wife,’ the performance – not the play – is the thing

By CHRIS HEWITT | [email protected]
February 14, 2016 | UPDATED: 4 days ago

I hate to argue with William Shakespeare but the playing’s the thing, not the play, in “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” at Minnesota Jewish Theatre.

Charles Busch’s comedy stops short, just when things seem to be getting interesting, but fine performances provide humanity and insight into what is missing from his play. It’s about a depressed Manhattan housewife named Marjorie (Sally Wingert), who takes a break from her many charitable activities to indulge in some “retail terrorism” at a Disney store and to wail, “Who’s going to volunteer to save me?” She gets her answer in the form of a long-lost childhood pal, Lee (Maggie Bearmon Pistner), who shows up at her apartment door one day and may never leave.

Maybe it’s because the cultured Marjorie drops references to so much literature, but there is a sense in “Allergist’s Wife” that, in between the many huge laughs it provides, it is searching for its own meaning just as surely as Marjorie is. She speaks often about her favorite book, “Siddhartha,” and how she relates to its protagonist’s quest for experience and understanding — and why wouldn’t she, since she lives in one of the world’s most populous cities but appears to have no one to talk to her but her inattentive husband (David Coral) and her judgmental mother (Linda Kelsey)? An even more potent reference in the play may be to “Waiting for Godot,” in which characters in an existential crisis wait for help from a character who never arrives.

Lee does arrive in “Allergist’s Wife” and, initially, she seems to be just what Marjorie needs to take her out of her own head. The play raises the idea that Lee may even be some kind of wraith or imaginary friend summoned up by Marjorie because she’s so lonely. But Lee gets Marjorie out of the house with her wild stories about the famous people she supposedly knows and soon begins to hint that she needs money for a charity she may or may not actually represent. I like the idea that Lee is imaginary — and that, perhaps, Marjorie, her husband and mother have all summoned her in a mass delusion to fill the emptiness in their lives — but the play rejects that notion and ends on a note of comfort and reassurance that Marjorie, having begun to re-engage with life, is going to be OK.

It’s in that ending, and in the bizarre treatment of an inexplicable fifth character — a doorman who can fix everything and has convenient knowledge of Lee’s supposed charity — that “Allergist’s Wife” becomes puzzling. By and large, it’s a realistic play that, in many ways, recalls John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation,” but the climax seems about to spin off in an absurdist direction more like Guare’s “House of Blue Leaves” or Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance,” both of which take us places that are surprising and weird. Those three are all better plays than “Allergist’s Wife,” which flirts with saying something unusual about the characters — Maybe Marjorie’s self-serving charity work does more harm than good? Maybe Lee’s destructive impulses are the only solution to an out-of-whack world? — but then pulls back to safer territory.

Happily, the cast seems willing to risk everything. Kelsey is hilarious as Marjorie’s mother, Frieda, whose body may be failing but whose mind and tongue remain sharp. I saw the original Broadway production of “Allergist’s Wife,” in which Frieda felt like a caricature of the harpy Jewish mother, but Kelsey — unrecognizable beneath a gray wig and atrocious slacks — locates the pain, and perhaps the cycle of abuse, that lurk underneath her expertly delivered barbs (a look Kelsey gives when Lee suggests Frieda may die soon is both the funniest and saddest moment in the play). Wingert also dives deep beneath the wisecracks, nailing both a lengthy monologue about Marjorie’s causes and the quieter moments when she writhes on her sofa in agony, and Wingert’s fierce intelligence makes even ambivalence seem oddly thrilling. Pistner, too, finds just the right balance between Lee’s charm and her nastiness.

As I drove home from the play, was I recasting those women in “A Delicate Balance,” which would have swell parts for all three of them? Yes. But there’s plenty of interesting material in “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” too, and they savor every bit of it.


What: “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife”

When: Through March 6

Where: Highland Park Community Center Theater, 1978 Ford Parkway, St. Paul

Tickets: $32-$20, 651-647-4316 or taleoftheallergistswife.brownpapertickets.com

Capsule: The play is fun. The three female leads are fantastic.

'The Twenty-Seventh Man' Shows Hope Amid Tragedy

By Renee Valois
Special to the Pioneer Press
October 19, 2015

Set a play in Russia during 1952 with Jewish protagonists and you can bet it's not going to be a comedy.

Hitler set the tone in the 1930s and 1940s with the Holocaust. His enemy, Josef Stalin, who at first appeared friendly to the Jews, continued the horror when his paranoia during the Cold War led to the abrupt arrest and imprisonment of prominent Russian Jews, including some of the greatest Yiddish writers in the country.

"The Twenty-Seventh Man" from Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company was inspired by the resulting "Night of the Murdered Poets."

Director Kurt Schweickhardt has created a compelling show that's mostly contained within a single prison cell -- housing four men grappling with questions of life and death, the price of betrayal and what it means to be a writer.

The show feels far larger than the space it inhabits.

Into a group of famous Yiddish authors, guards toss a young man who's driven to write daily but has never published a word. Does that make him a writer? How did he become a threat to the regime?

Michael Torsch gives the young man, Pinchas, laser-focused passion for writing and burning awe of his long-time idols that he unexpectedly meets under the worst of circumstances.

His intensity is matched by Gabriel Murphy as the arrogant, self-aggrandizing Korinsky, who fancies himself a friend of Stalin and imprisoned by mistake because his poetry is mostly paeans to the state and its leader.

He boasts a high opinion of his own writing as opposed to the other two poets in the cell -- who are Pinchas' true heroes.

Their more subdued acting in counterpoint to the fervor of Pinchas and Korinsky gives the production welcome shades of light and dark.

Joher Coleman as Bretzky has the tough task of explaining why he returned to Russia when he could have stayed safely in America. Michael Kissin as Zunser, the legendary master of Yiddish writing, brings a tough wisdom and clarity to the future that faces them -- and a fearlessness in the face of death brought about by repeated encounters with tragedy.

There is plenty of tension and some violence in this play about the power of writing and the terror of evil. It's as well done as we've come to expect from the MJTC -- and as serious in tone.

Bretzky says that Hitler was trying to physically wipe out the Jews, but Stalin aimed to destroy their soul. Clearly he did not succeed. Although dark, this play suggests that tragedy can be illuminated by hope -- and the power of words can live on long after those who have written them are gone.