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Actresses shine in ‘Tale of the Allergist’s Wife’

The booming-voiced but pint-sized Andee Gibbs has made a local career of bringing to life many of those Jewish-mother roles that the theater world likes to reinvent about a dozen times a season.

You know the type: aging, nosey, loud, loving but impossible, not shy about listing all physical ailments at dinner time, spouting Yiddish expressions when life is too much for her, and best and worst of all, an expert at inducing guilt in the souls of “ungrateful” children.

What’s surprising about Gibbs is how she’s able to pump new blood into the stereo­type. She always finds the individual beneath the clichés. She brings freshness and startling attack to every one-liner.

This time out she’s Frieda, the mother of a well-to-do Manhattan woman (Melissa Riezler) undergoing a midlife crisis in Charles Busch’s 2000 “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.” Frieda is intelligent, amiable and bored out of her mind. Her husband (David McKee), a philanthropic — you guessed it — allergist, is as well-adjusted and comfortable in his skin as she is not. Their lives bump adequately along until an old childhood friend of the woman’s (Rozanne Sher) unexpectedly enters the picture. By play’s end, it’s obvious the marriage will never be the same.

Busch is known for his bare-bones, movie-camp productions that often feature him as a drag queen. This script was an obvious attempt to go legit — to appeal to the masses — and he succeeded wildly. Things are pretty tame in the first act. But in the second — when the childhood friend tries to get the couple to loosen up — events turn Busch-y.

The play is a lot funnier than director Steve McMillian has been able to realize here. His tone is off much of the time. He doesn’t capture the comically desperate situation of the woman.

Nor do we get the clash of worlds between the conservative housewife and her out-there friend. This is more Mary Tyler Moore than Charles Busch.

I found myself, though, warming up to Sher as the play progressed. I fell in love with the way she tossed her head back in laughter, played with her chin, twirled her fingers in her hair. Sher communicates her character’s willingness to try just about anything.

Ron Lindblom’s kitchen, living room, dining room set suggests a smart New York apartment. It’s full of curious angles that you never tire of looking at. Ginny Adams’ lights add to the sense of upper-crust décor, and help us get our bearings as to time of day.

And then there’s Gibbs. All she pretty much does here is kvetch, but she’s a kvetcher of the highest order. She doesn’t kid her role; she merely in­habits it. This allows the comedy to spring forth from who she is. The result is an in-the-moment reality that makes you feel the stale shtick is being made up on the spot.

And how many actresses can bring down the house (and the scene) with a simple line like “Oy, I feel so bloated!”?

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheater
chat@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas
Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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