The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.
By Charles Busch
Directed by Barry Tepperman
Played by Fern Tepperman, Ruth Korchuk, David Conter, Eleanor Ender and Azar Hassan
A London Community Players Production
The Palace Theatre
January 20–29, 2011

Sometimes both the most self-satisfied and the most frustrated of lives can be shaken up by a catalyst from the outside for better or for worse. This play, although a bit hampered by an awkward opening, is an imaginative and surprisingly challenging raucous comedy about one such couple who find their lives strangely disrupted by an intruder who might be less or more than she appears.

Marjorie (Fern Tepperman) is a distraught woman in New York City living a life of intellectual frustration being the wife of Ira (David Conter), a celebrated semi-retired doctor. To make matters worse, her mother, Frieda (Eleanor Ender), is a foul mouthed busybody who seems to love her son-in-law more than her own daughter, even though her young doorman, Mohammed (Azar Hassan) tries to be helpful. All this changes when Marjorie has a chance encounter with a long lost childhood friend, Lee (Ruth Korchuk), a vivacious soul with an incredible past, who enlivens her life terrifically. However, Ira and Frieda initially are not even sure Lee exists as they wonder about Majorie’s enlivened spirit. However, even after those initial doubts are settled, that is merely the beginning of Lee’s antics turning their lives upside down.

To think that I once broadly dismissed the LCP shows as being too safe and staid. This play is at least an exception to that with a witty story that refuses to grant any easy answers to the questions raised. Instead, we are treated to a plot that seems to begin rather dully as we endure Marjorie’s whining about being an intellectually ambitious socialite with way too much time on her hands. However, the action really gets going when Frieda arrives and the sparks fly as this obnoxious mother kvetches incessantly with a hilariously disgusting sense of conversational timing.

With the family dynamics in place, Lee’s entrance takes the comedy into high gear as she comes into Marjorie’s life with seemingly the ideal life in New York City. In a neat inversion of the major plot twist of Fight Club, there is a genuine feeling of psychological mystery in the first act as you are led to wonder along with Ira and Frieda just how real Lee is until you get your answer. However, the second act takes an even more outrageous tone as Lee becomes the other characters’ spanner in the works throwing their life akilter both in constructive and destructive ways with such randomness that you will be unable to decide what she really is up to. Along the way, the play delves into subject matter I’d more associate with London’s alternative scene to excellent effect while it glides to a reasonably satisfying ending. In short, the characters get enough gumption to stand up to their new influence, without realizing that she affected them more than they realized.

The players generally perform their parts well. For instance, Eleanor Ender is a scream as Frieda, a whiny pain in the butt who has some good intentions, provided you are willing to dig through her scatological whining. However, the really refreshing element I enjoyed is that she is allowed to defy the hoary comedy cliche of the mother-in-law as marked by her doting relationship with Ira. David Conter serves that role well as a self-satisfied doctor who is dedicated to serving the underprivileged and making his wife happy. In that part, Conter neatly infuses an intriguing element of insecurity that drives his character with a slight shady tone to his best intentions.

However, the most intriguing actor is Ruth Korchuk as Lee, a overwhelmingly vivacious woman who seems too good to be true in more than one way. To create that ambiance, Korchuck hilariously performs like a bull in an emotional china shop, plowing through the others’ inhibitions with reckless enthusiasm. Even her constant name dropping can’t get help but get you suspicious as it becomes so overbearing that it feels like a scam or worse. By contrast, Fern Tepperman’s character takes longer to accept with her incessant whining and overprivileged assumptions, but to her credit, Tepperman slowly wins you over as she learns to enjoy life again, even if her teacher is suspect. In the midst of this, Azar Hassan is charmingly understated as the doorman, trying to do his job, but unable to get out of the social crossfire.

The stage is beautifully dressed as the ideal New York urban home with a clever angular design to accentuate the set’s depth. It is the perfect setting for this story of friendship and one’s purpose in life without being too ostentatious.

While the opening is weak, this play still recovers into a fun production with daring material for this company that speaks well for its future.