In the post-post-baby-boomer generation we occupy, in which children are girded with all the trappings of entitlement and math and science are outsourced to the former Third World, playwright Charles Busch offers audiences a frenzied reordering of the restlessness unique to a “Jewish-American Princess” in a $900,000 Riverside Drive apartment. The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, a dilettante satire of slaphappy proportions now playing at East Hampton’s Mulford Repertory Theatre, casts an unflinching spotlight on the status quo of metropolitan culture and the vanity inherent in luxury-priced soul-searching. I was lucky enough to see a preview dress rehearsal of this exceptional play on Friday night.
Mulford’s choice of material is nothing short of timely, as those of liberal-leaning sensibilities cope with the shattering of the debt ceiling and grieve the six-figure sum they sacrificed for their children’s BFA in Circus Performance, Decorative Mask Making or Clinical Dance Therapy. And post-grads wonder why they are still unemployed.
Protagonist Marjorie Taub, played valiantly by multi-tasking director Kate Mueth, is most blatantly a product of such upbringing.
“Skills are important. I have no skills,” laments a wilting Marjorie in the production’s opening scene. “Let’s just say I’m no stranger to the Hunter College Adult Education Program,” she cries.
Mourning the death of an idolized therapist, Marjorie shrouds herself in layers of bathrobe and pajama, relishing the reverberations of existential crisis in her vogue-less Upper West Side condo. But such anomie is routine, if not sadomasochistic, says her husband, holistic allergist-turned-NYU-guru, Dr. Ira Taub, played by local theatre veteran Josh Gladstone. After years of hapless floundering, abstract thinking and a failed “non-linear” novel, Marjorie excavates the works of Hesse, Rilke and Mann in fruitless pursuit of purpose, fortified solely by literary zeal and morning bikram at Yoga For The People. Begrudgingly, Marjorie suffers the ceaseless ravings of her obliquely constipated, suppository-toting mother, Frieda Tuchman (Lydia Franco-Hodges), whose inability to let slip her bowels is doubtlessly an hysterical symptom of her refusal to rescind control.
Marjorie’s vicarious search for self continues with the serendipitous arrival of childhood friend Lee Green (Licia James-Zegar), a pretense-hungry beauty, who, under the guise of philanthropy, has managed to co-mingle with virtually every notable 21st-century zeitgeist—from Kerouac and Warhol to Nixon and back. Under Marjorie’s cloying idolatry for Lee their relationship flourishes, until a swinger’s threesome and the embezzlement of geriatric funds provides the farcical revelation customary to summer stock-friendly theatre: that family, mediocrity and dignified boredom are quite enough.
Though the concluding scene of The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife teeters on the line of heavy-handed moralism (or cheese), Busch is successful in his assault on the neo-intellectual pseudo-spirituality of the upper middle class. Scene-stealing Lydia Franco-Hodges is deliciously shrewd in the role of Frieda, the archetypal yenta with a Zion-sized chip on her shoulder. What Kate Mueth lacks in sincerity she makes up for in comic prowess, sputtering on the precipice of psychosomatic seizure like a maudlin Chekhovian matriarch on amphetamine. The effect is generally hilarious, if not occasionally awkward.
And Mulford’s 18th-century farmhouse-turned-playhouse proves to be the perfect place for transplanted Manhattanites to reflect critically on the reasons for their three-month departure to that Peruvian monastery or the purpose behind that red Kabbalah string adorning their Cartier-clad wrists. After a few glasses of Chardonnay (theatre-goers are encouraged to bring their own), The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife offers audiences a warm reminder: the next time you’re looking for meaning, retire that worn copy of Siddhartha to the bookshelf and go outside and mow the lawn.
The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife is now showing at the Mulford Repertory Theatre, 10 James Lane, East Hampton, from August 16 to September 4. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and the show begins at 7:30. To purchase tickets, visit www.theatremania.com.