Self-discovery penned into a witty and poignant modern comedy is exactly what awaits you at the Bowie Community Theatre this summer as they present their production of The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife by Charles Busch. Directed by John Nunemaker, this comedy presents life in a fun new light. Marjorie Taub has a major melt after the death of her therapist and is quickly heading down the slippery slope of no return. Her kvetching mother only fuels the fire of self depreciation and her clueless husband, the renowned and recently retired allergist, has no solutions to offer. Enter Lee — a long lost friend from childhood who has traveled the world over and made quite a life for herself. The only problem is that Marjorie seems to be the only one that can see Lee. Convinced that she’s lost her mind, when Lee proves to be all too real the shit hits the fan and the laughs grow from there.
Costume Designer Jane Lecher knows fashion. The enigmatic character of Lee is a polished sophisticate and Lecher’s designs easily reflect that. Keeping the clothing for the Taubs’ simple with hints of aristocracy she keeps these characters easily believable. Adding to her design work is the clever use of brightly colored and bawdily patterned shirts for the aging mother character of Frieda.
Set Designer Gerard Williams crafts a quaint and simultaneously posh apartment in upper Manhattan. Giving the space a sense of being well-lived in and decorated without feeling cluttered, Williams creates several intimate spaces within the overarching set that allows for a great deal of spatial depth. This simple idea of having more than one place to play a scene is a clever way of making a space more fully functional as well as appearing larger than it actually is.
Director John Nunemaker does an exceptional job of keeping the play going, especially once the second act bursts to life. While the first act has its sluggish moments, particularly during conversations between Ira and Marjorie, the second act is explosive. Nunemaker, however, fails to utilize the beautiful space provided in Williams’ design work. There are several scenes, particularly those of confrontation, where the actors find themselves moving upstage to the front of the apron, in front of the set to have these crucial moments. It seems out of place to have them standing almost out of the set when there is so much space and so many furnishings within where these same critical moments could take place. While there isn’t an excess of wandering or pacing, the blocking in places just feels off, especially when it ends with the actors gathered together at the front most part of the stage.
Mohammed (Uday Berry) is just the simple doorman, but Berry proves that there are no small parts as he makes his presence known. During the epic confrontation of Marjorie’s delusion, he sits quietly desperately trying to escape the tension by shoveling food into his mouth, creating some scene stealing shenanigans that are most entertaining. Berry only has a few lines but he delivers them with a well practiced excellence.
The main couple, Marjorie (Christine Conroy Smith) and Ira (Timothy Sayles), lack basic chemistry between them. This proves problematic because there are scenes where they are clearly meant to be intimate and in love, despite their troubles, but they feel cold and distant toward one another for the entire production. Sayles stumbles over his lines from time to time but makes up for this with his intriguing facial expressions. Smith tends to play her emotions at one over-the-top level, shouting at shrill unreasonable decibels. She does have her redeeming moments when blasting another doctor out of the water into the phone, an amusing moment that brings about a few good laughs.
Carrying the show on their shoulders are the quirky crazy old mother Frieda (Hillary Mazer) and the enigmatic Lee (Edye Smith). Both performers ground their characters in a present reality, pandering to their unique qualities to make the most of the zany situations they find themselves in. Mazer plays the epitome of a kvetching worrisome and meddlesome Jewish mother, with the most inappropriate potty mouth. Between her constant toilet humor and her wildly expressive facial expressions, she takes command of the comedic elements of the entire first act. With her subtle gestures to keep her in the role of crazy old lady it’s no wonder the audience is laughing every time she makes a move.
As for Edye Smith, she embodies the mysterious character of Lee with panache and a seamless elegance that makes her a mystifying sensual creature. It’s a fun character and Smith breathes a vibrant life into the sexual overtones of her nature. With a tenuous grasp on restraining her sexuality, Smith engages the audience with her every word and move. A true delight to watch on the stage she carries the levity and severity of the second half of the show.
Mazer and Edye Smith make the production what it ought to be – a rollicking good comedy great for summertime laughs.
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.
The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife plays through July 27, 2013 at Bowie Community Theatre performing at The Bowie Playhouse at White Marsh Park – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 805-0219, or purchase them online.