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.