Busch League Play At The Ahmanson

REVIEW by Willard Manus

Director Lynne Meadow and her five-person cast pull out all the stops to make Charles Busch's sitcom-like comedy, THE ALLERGIST'S WIFE, work at the Ahmanson. Valerie Harper, as Marjorie, an upper-middleclass New Yorker ridden with angst over the death of her psychiatrist, is allowed--nay, encouraged--to go over the top time and time again. She chews up more carpet than a flock of goats. Tony Roberts, as her more lowkey, inhibited husband (the allergist of the title), does a convincing imitation of Walter Mathau, right down to the nasal, whiny voice. Michele Lee as Lee, the Pinteresque visitor who disrupts the marital balance with her bisexual moves, vamps it up outrageously, but even she's tame stuff compared to Shirl Bernheim as Frieda, Marjorie"s raucous, foul-mouthed mother. Her gutter talk would make even Chris Rock cringe.

When you add Busch's joke-a-minute dialogue to the mix--some of his jokes are terrific, others appalling--what you come away with is a broad, loud, unsubtle comedy that stops at nothing to win its audience over. Busch, known previously for his high-camp, transvestite parodies of bad movies, still aims his work below the belt, but at least he hasn't insisted on playing Marjorie. He's made a career out of low comedy--and it's paid off again. The Manhattan Theatre Club premiered the play in New York (Meadows is artistic director there) and, after a limited run, THE ALLERGIST'S WIFE transferred to Broadway, where it did boffo business.

Now the play is filling the cavernous Ahmanson Theatre--and squeezing big laughs out of its audience. It only goes to prove the old adage, that theatre is a vulgar art form; the vulgarer the better.

Through Aug. 11 at the Ahmanson, l35 N. Grand Ave. Call (213) 628-2772 or visit www.TaperAhmanson.com