By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST‘S WIFE With such camp farces as Psycho Beach Party, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Red Scare on Sunset, playwright Charles Busch always seemed to be trying a little too hard to be funny and subversive, but in this thoroughly middlebrow comedy he has perhaps found his metier. Linda Lavin plays a woman who’s read much but done little in her life, except remain married to a plodding, self-satisfied allergy doctor (Tony Roberts) whose life‘s mission has been the clearing of sinuses -- the couple’s conflicting concerns represent a case of atman vs. asthma. Then, one day, Lee (Michele Lee) -- an old school chum, a woman who is everything Lavin‘s Marjorie is not: experienced in the world of sex and political intrigue, not to mention well-dressed and manicured -- brightens her door. Much of the play is the story of Marjorie’s big make-over from frump to adventuress. La Lavin is achingly funny as the plaintive intellectual manque and receives fine support from the show‘s more caricatured figures (including Shirl Bernheim as Roberts’ harpy mother). The Tale of the Allergist‘s Wife’s rather conservative domestic tone, however, becomes intrusive at play‘s end, when Busch makes an unambiguous play for the loyalty of the house’s middle-aged and elderly Jewish audience members by abruptly suggesting that the vivacious Lee is, of all things, some sort of anti-Israeli terrorist sympathizer! Ethel Barrymore Theater, 243 W. 47th St.
COMIC POTENTIAL Alan Ayckbourn‘s latest comedy to come over the pond is a futuristic piffle that, in this Manhattan Theater Club production directed by John Tillinger, is happily redeemed by a single performance. In this near-future setup, TV is not only no longer live but also no longer populated by expensive live actors. Instead, automatonic ”actoids“ enact the TV viewers’ dream lives. Ayckbourn‘s story revolves around one of these robots as it makes the evolutionary leap from programmed response to dawning intelligence. Janie Dee, who originated the part in London, plays Jacie Triplethree, the actoid in question, and it is her marvelously articulated ”human“ gestures and vaguely inappropriate laughter that make the show a surprisingly effective cultural spoof and such fun to watch. It will have closed by the time this appears, but is almost certain to arrive here within a year or two.
4 GUYS NAMED JOSE . . . and una mujer named Maria! This surprise crossover musical hit is an eminently likable omnibus of choreographed songs from Latino pop culture, delivered -- or so Dolores Prida’s story would have us believe -- by a quintet of emigres performing at a VFW hall in wintry Nebraska. Our Joses are from Cuba (Ricardo Puente), Puerto Rico (Allen Hidalgo), Mexico (Henry Gainza) and the Dominican Republic (Philip Anthony), while Maria‘s (Lissette Gonzalez) origins are a well-kept secret. A charming, if harmless, evening of tunes and dance, 4 Guys Named Jose presents a broad cross section of insurgently romantic ballads and celebratory numbers, from ”Santiago“ to ”Veracruz“ to, yes, ”Livin’ la Vida Loca.“ The downside to the fun is that in order to run through a formidable list of 40 ditties, many are thrown into that blender called ”medley“ or otherwise given short shrift in truncated formats. Also, the show simply needs more shtick onto which to hang these songs. As likable as the cast is under Susana Tubert‘s tight direction and Maria Torres’ fluid choreography, Prida‘s English-language book is basically held up by two thin strands -- the national competitiveness of the four proud men and their macho claims on Maria. This doesn’t make for an engaging narrative, and there really needs to be more story to sustain our attention -- although this show screams to run in L.A. Blue Angel Theater, 323 W. 44th St.
THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW One doesn‘t readily admit to having spent a precious assignment night covering Richard O’Brien‘s oft-produced glitter-camp chestnut, but this newest production is a pure -- if guilty -- pleasure. The show bounces along at a furious pace, fronted by Tom Hewitt’s ebullient turn as Dr. Frank N. Furter (whose blond flattop runs against the trad grain of Tim Curry‘s black coif) and balanced by the arid commentary of Dick Cavett (yes, that Dick Cavett). It also features some inspired casting choices that include a shaved-headed Joan Jett as Columbia and Lea DeLaria as EddyDr. Scott. Director Christopher Ashley has also amped up the show by making Frank N. Furter’s boy-toy creation Rocky (Sebastian LaCause) a much more assertive creature of sensual comfort than previously glimpsed, and the good director also gets an energetic turn from Daphne Rubin-Vega as Magenta. Since this is Broadway, ”audience-participation kits“ are available before the show in the lobby at $10 a pop and include, among other items, miniflashlights, confetti, playing cards -- in other words, the stuff people have been bringing to the movie screening for years. (Note: no rice or squirt guns.) That said, the show holds up very well, even if Cavett‘s post-election japes about chads and the state of Florida seemed positively musty only two days after the Supreme Court’s own horror-show verdict. Circle in the Square, 50th Street west of Broadway.