In a fine weave of intellectual jokes and crude humor, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife keeps the audience entertained while teaching a lesson about life.
Set in the Upper Westside of Manhattan at present time, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife is the story of a Jewish woman, Marjorie, who is going through a mid-life crisis. With the help of her husband, mother and trusty doorman, Marjorie learns that her life may be better than she previously thought.
In a twist of fate, Marjorie reunites with a childhood friend, Lee, who has led the adventurous life she dreamed of. In turn, Marjorie renews her interest in life by trying to fulfill all her dreams. During her quest, Marjorie realizes she has led a rewarding life, and she even has a few things that Lee does not.
The play, which is written by Charles Busch, offers something different from his usual pieces, such as the classics Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Psycho Beach Party.
“Busch is known for really crazy and campy comedies, and this play was his experiment with a different, more down-to-earth style,” said Eric Davis, director of the play.
Davis, who is also the director of arts at Blake High School, said his biggest challenge in directing the play was maintaining the element of surprise.
“In this play, you think one thing is going to happen, but then something else happens,” Davis said. “I thought of the first time I read the script and how shocked I was, and (I) tried to preserve that feeling for the audience.”
There is a wide range of comedy used throughout the play, which makes the piece appealing to a variety of people. Many philosophical names are dropped for intellectual humor, but there are also plenty of jokes that would appeal to 12-year-old children. While humor is dominant throughout the play, there are also serious undertones that eventually develop into the overall message of the play. There are some sexual scenes and a few foul words, but neither detract from the play.
The set is also a piece of art. With a budget that could not compensate building the walls of Marjorie’s apartment, set designer R.T. Williams produced a life-size blueprint that lay on the floor showing where the walls should be. The result is an abstract take on how the apartment should look, which parallels nicely with the abstract rhetoric of the play. The actors faced challenges with character development such as mastering the accents and actions of their roles.
“The writer gives you what’s on the page, but you have to create what comes before that — a whole history. Then you also have to research the way your character would move and act, and the Jewish-New York accent,” said Petrus Antonius, the Dutch actor who is portraying Marjorie’s husband.
The actress portraying Marjorie, Kathi Grau-LeBaron, said the biggest obstacle was making her character realistic to the audience.
“The biggest challenge for me was not to make her a big cartoon,” Grau-LeBaron said. “She’s one quip after another, but there’s that constant pull to make her real.”
Since the play is performed in the tight quarters of the Hinks and Elaine Shimberg Playhouse at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, the actors also had to adjust to performing with the audience less than an arm’s length away.
“Live theater is scary sometimes because you blank out,” Antonius said. “It can be distracting, and you have to make sure you avoid eye contact with the audience, so sometimes you look out beyond them or sometimes you just have to eyeball them on the knees.”
The main asset of the play is the actors. Antonius and Grau-LeBaron are comfortable on the stage, especially during their interactions with each other. Hersha Parady shines as Frieda, Marjorie’s ailing mother, who gets a major portion of the audience’s laughs. Angela Bond is a good cast for Lee, Marjorie’s best friend, while Miguel Rodriguez delivers a commendable performance as Mohammed, the Iraqi doorman. The smooth and comfortable delivery gives the play a faÃ§ade that it has been crafted to perfection through several different takes, rather than a single, live performance.
The play, which is presented by the local Stageworks Theater Company, will continue its run at the Performing Arts Center until June 1. Davis said he is pleased with the public’s reaction to the play, which sold out its last performance.
“Everyone who has seen it says they really enjoyed it,” Davis said. “The audience has been laughing, so I think everything has gone pretty well so far.”