KURT JOHNS' PROJECTS

THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST"S WIFE at The Apple Tree Theatre

Kurt Johns, Director
Sara Gammage, Stage Manager A.E.A.
Jaqueline & Richard Penrod, Scenic Designers U.S.A.
Elizabeth Shaffer, Costume Designer
Jaqueline Reid, Lighting Designer
Micky York, Props Designer
Scott Miller, Sound Designer

JEFF RECOMMENDED!

February 22 - March 19, 2006

Marjorie Taub, the wife of a philanthropic allergist, is engulfed in a life crisis in this critically-acclaimed comedy. With her children grown, her beloved therapist recently dead and her mother incessantly needling her, she finds herself in an empty nest without much interest in anything. Her spirits suddenly soar when a fascinating and incredibly worldy friend from her childhood appears on her door step. THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST'S WIFE is a deliciously devious social satire that won the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award in 2000 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play.

 

 

ABOUT THE SHOW
Cast
Press
Photos
Directors Notes


 


The Cast

Renee Matthews (Frieda) is delighted to be making her first appearance at Apple free Theatre. Most recently she was seen as Jeanette in The Full Monty at the Drury Lane Water Tower Theatre (Jeff Award and After Dark Award). Other credits include Yente in Fiddler on the Roof both at Drury Lane Oakbrook and Light Opera Works, and as Ada in Over the River and Through the Woods both at The Mercury Theatre and Theatre at the Center. She also appeared as Abby in Arsenic and Old Lace and Miss Lynch in Grease at Drury Lane Oakbrook, four seasons as Mrs. Fezziwig in A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre and at the Marriott Theatre, her appearances include Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, 70 Girls 70 and the world premiere of Grover's Corners. Other credits include The Vagina Monologues at The ApolloTheatre, Northlight Theatre's A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coer and Bubbe Meises, and Candlelight Theatre's Ruthless!, Follies and Bye, Bye Birdie. This past summer, at The Chicago Jewish Theatre, Renee and her partner, Gerald Bailey presented Molly Picon's Return Engagement based on the life of the late Yiddish actress. She is a graduate of De Paul University and is the recipient of the 2000 After Dark Award for an outstanding season of work.


Vishal Patel (Mohammed) makes his Apple Tree debut in The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. He was recently seen as Bhagwan Nera in Prop Theatre's production of The Masrayana. Other stage credits include: the Narrator in The Opposition at the Storefront Theatre, Hal in Proof at the Black Box Theatre, and Beralde in The Imaginary Invalid at Washington University. He is currently finishing work on the short feature The Wait, where he is playing a computer hacker. On television, he was last seen as Yusef Ramzi on History Channel's Conspiracy series. This performance is dedicated to his hometown of Sterling, Illinois.


John Reeger (Ira) recently appeared at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock's Last Case, the Wizard in Once Upon a Mattress and Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. His other Drury Lane roles include John Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet, Capt Hook in Peter Pan, Fagin in Oliver!, and Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. His fifteen productions at the Marriott Theatre include Max in Sunset Boulevard, Georges in La Cage Aux Follies and Billy Flynn in Chicago. John has appeared in thirty productions at Court Theatre, including Gabriel Conroy in James Joyce's “The Dead”, Polonius in Hamlet and Malvolio in Twelfth Night. Other credits include King John, The Moliere Comedies and The Winter's Tale (Chicago Shakespeare); Woody Guthrie's American Song and Enter the Guardsman (Northlight) and The Ballad of Little Jo (Steppenwolf). John co-authored The Christmas Schooner with Julie Shannon. He's proudest of his longtime marriage to Paula Scrofano and of their two children, Adam and Alison.


Hollis Resnick (Lee) most recently played Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire at the Cleveland Playhouse. Prior to that she was Aldonza in Court theatre's production of Man of La Mancha. This past year she was seen as Leona in Do I Hear a Waltz at Theatre at the Center and as the actress in The Guardsman at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. She has done the National tours of Thoroughly Modern Millie and Les Miserable and has performed at Ravinia in Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music as well as appearing with the Ravinia orchestra and being part of their Martini series. Her Court Theatre credits include: The Little Foxes, The Learned Ladies, The Misanthrope, Travesties, The Play's the Thing and The Dead. Other appearances include The Beard of Avon, The House of Martin Guerre and Wings at the Goodman theatre, Into the Woods, Mame and Anything Goes at the Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, The Immigrant at Northlight and Arizona Rep and Tartuffe at Santa Fe Stages. Her Apple Tree credits include Songs for a New World and The World Goes Round. Hollis is the recipient of 8 Jeff awards and 3 after dark awards and had recorded her own CD entitled Make Someone Happy. She has also sung for the CSO and the Lyric Opera. She can soon be seen in the independent feature Little Big Top.


Paula Scrofano (Marjorie) is glad to be sharing the Apple Tree stage with her husband John and good friends Hollis and Renee. Paula has previously been seen here as Abby Gersten in Denial and as Zlata in Necessary Targets. She appeared at Court Theatre as Gretta Conroy in James Joyce's “The Dead”, Judith Bliss in Hay Fever and the Wife in Putting It Together, for which she received a Jeff Award. Other credits include the title role in Victor/Victoria, Eva Peron in Evita, Ida in Honk and Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (Marriott Theatre); Fioria in Do I Hear a Waltz? and Mama Rose in Gypsy (Theatre at the Center); Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music and Dot/Marie in Sunday in the Park with George (Goodman Theatre); Kate in The Ballad of Little Jo (Steppenwolf Theatre); Bella in Lost in Yonkers and Maria Merelli in Lend me a Tenor (Royal George Theatre); and Queen Aggravain in Once Upon a Mattress and a Jeff Award for Lily Garland in ON The Twentieth Century (Drury Lane Oakbrook).


cast | press | photos | director's notes


DIRECTOR’S NOTES

I recently repatriated to Chicago from New York’s Upper West Side, home of Zabar's, Lincoln Center, 92 nd Street Y, H & H Bagels, and Marjorie and Ira Taub. It is in this neighborhood of astounding cultural overflow that Marjorie has her intellectual and spiritual crisis. OK, she has lost her therapist. In my old neighborhood, this happens to everyone each August, when all therapists go on vacation. But Marjorie has also lost her way. I think Marjorie’s angst and raging desire for fulfillment is recognizable to anyone with a liberal arts education.

Maybe I’ve read too much Joseph Campbell, but I think there is a mythical aspect to this play. In every mythology, there is a story about a central character that is “stuck”. There is always an outside force or a mysterious stranger who arrives bearing the gift of "unstuck-ness". In our story, a vision from Marjorie’s past enters her life to give her a swift kick in the intellectual behind. I think there are times when we could all use a fairy godmother…with a large boot.

The author, Charles Busch is one of our most beloved drag performers. Marjorie Taub began life as Miriam Passman, a very popular character in Charles’ drag act. As he began writing this play, Charles said, “This was one of the few times I’d looked at my own suburban Jewish director's notes and the people I grew up with… Wouldn’t it be funny to take these Jewish characters and put them in a rather cryptic Albee or Pinter play?” Thus, The Allergist’s Wife was born, a comic play about human foibles, “stuck-ness”, longing, relationships, and metamorphosis.

I would like to thank The Apple Tree theatre for putting this play and me in their season. I hope you enjoy watching The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.

~ Kurt Johns, Director

cast | press | photos | director's notes


Press

Chicago Sun Times review
Chicago Tribune review
Copley News Service review
Stead Style Chicago review
Pioneer Press review
Chicagocritic.com review
Daily Herald Review
Chicago Reader Review

cast | press | photos | director's notes


Highlights from the Chicago Sun-Times review by Hedy Weiss

Confession No. 1: I loathed Charles Busch's satire "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" when it came to Chicago several years ago in a post-Broadway national tour that starred Valerie Harper. And when I learned that Highland Park's Apple Tree Theatre was planning to revive it -- and to tap such exceptional actors as Paula Scrofano, John Reeger, Hollis Resnik and Renee Matthews to devote their time and energy to it -- I thought: What a waste of talent.

Confession No. 2: I was wrong. Assemble a cast like the one just listed. Call on Chicago-bred actor-turned-director Kurt Johns (repatriated from New York) to perfectly modulate the play's crass, crazy and gerontologically scatological excesses. Busch's comedy of manners for the "culturati class" of Manhattan's Upper West Side takes on a new quality. Even the title, a twist on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, begins to make sense.

The plot is part classic marital farce, part Roman comedy, part diary of a mad housewife, part Borscht Belt routine, part zany update of the mystical Jewish legend of "The Golem" -- and, finally, 100 percent pure middle-brow entertainment with a side of smarts. The Apple Tree production, which opened Sunday night, gets it absolutely right. All that's missing is a Zabar's shopping bag.

Busch, who spent much of his career as a drag queen starring in his self-penned plays, believes the most shocking and freeing thing that can happen to this couple is to become part of an orgy -- a menage a trois for the middle class and middle-aged. That is so 1970s. But it's ultimately beside the point. The real moral of the story is that one woman realizes she has built a fortress of family around herself and found refuge in the arts, while the other has tasted the world and ended up rather destitute, and forever self-fictionalizing.

Mates onstage and off

Not surprisingly, Scofano and Reeger (a couple in real life, as well as onstage) have every beat down pat. She has always been a closet comedian whose demure exterior can easily be set to "explosive"; he is the essence of droll reserve, but when his eyes light up, or he lets one little line slip, it's perfection.

As for Resnik, who looks quite smashing, it's worth the price of a ticket just to hear her intone a sentence in Mandarin Chinese (or what passes for it). Charming and seductive, she is a most sophisticated charlatan, and also manages to betray just a hint of neediness.

For spot-on timing and Old World, Yiddish-inflected, hard- knocks humor, Matthews is in a class by herself. She possesses the kind of built-in comic metronome they just don't make anymore, and to watch her nail every pause, every gesture and every laugh, is to see a master at work.

There is an important fifth character in the play, too -- Mohammed (portrayed winningly by Vishal Patel). The Taubs' intellectual doorman, from an educated Egyptian family, he discusses literature with Marjorie, while also serving as handyman. Busch wrote "The Allergist's Wife" in pre-Sept. 11 New York -- a fact that makes their tender relationship seem all but nostalgic now.

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Highlights from the Chicago Tribune review by Chris Jones

"I don't believe this," said the enthusiastic woman brushing past me at Sunday night's opening of "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" at the Apple Tree Theatre. "They gave me my old seats back."

I don't know the woman's story, but I'd guess she had not been at the Apple Tree in a while. This theater likes to do risky material — Chekhov, serious small musicals, edgy plays — that many would deem dangerous if you're located in a strip mall on the North Shore. But this lapsed fan had shown up for Charles Busch's mainstream commercial comedy with Jewish themes, urban sophistication, some decent yuks and a bit of bite. But not enough to spoil the memory of an early dinner. Or the anticipation of a late one, if only Highland Park restaurants would stay open.

Those of us with eclectic tastes wouldn't want to see Apple Tree overdoing this kind of thing. But this theater sure could use a mainstream, popular hit (for one thing, its lease expires in August and it needs the city of Highland Park to come through with a new space). Kurt Johns' perfectly solid production — which showcases the real-life, old-school, husband-and-wife team of Paula Scrofano and John Reeger — should serve that purpose in the coming weeks.

To his credit, Busch only partly succumbs to the tropes of the married-and-bored Upper West Side comedy. He also has one foot in mystery and one foot in overtly off-Broadway satire — he's one part Alan Ayckbourn and two parts Christopher Durang.

Johns' production is well paced...cleverly cast and it ripples along very pleasantly. And the tricky, farce-serious tone mostly is pitched about right. "Allergist's" looked too small and trivial when it played downtown a couple of years ago as part of a Broadway tour...the piece looks far more comfortable in Apple Tree's intimate little space.

Therein, practiced Chicago hands have a great old time.

cast | press | photos | director's notes


Highlights from the Copley News Service review by Dan Zeff

"The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" is a sturdy mainstream comedy that originated from an unlikely source, playwright-actor Charles Busch. Before the play opened on Broadway, Busch was known as the king (or perhaps the queen) of campy off-Broadway theater with bizarre comedies like "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom" and "Psycho Beach Party."

But Busch showed with "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" that he had a conventional comedy in him, a show about Jewish characters on the upper West Side in New York City that was tailored made for the typical middle-class Broadway audience. The show became a hit in New York and traveled to Chicago a few years ago in a dreadfully coarsened road show version that must have left local patrons perplexed about the play's success on Broadway.

The Apple Tree Theatre is reviving Busch's play and restoring most of the laughs that were obliterated by the vulgarized touring production.

The show gets its humor from all kinds of in jokes-some about Jewish life and many about literature, including numerous references to Hermann Hesse, perhaps the most unread great writer of the 20th century.

The script is also larded with jokes that will probably mean more to New Yorkers than outlanders, like references to Hunter College and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. There are also plentiful satirical comments about writers from Thomas Pynchon to Simone de Beauvoir and Charles Baudelaire. This is not a play directed at literary illiterates.

Busch never figured out how to properly end the play, so he settled for making the charming and entertaining Lee a kind of villain to give the play a touchy feely conclusion. But until then the laughs are steady, at least for spectators who enjoy bathroom humor, the spectacle of a woman wallowing in operatic insecurity, and one-liners about Judaism as well as famous writers.

The Apple Tree cast is filled with familiar names from the top drawer of area performers. Paula Scrofano is superb as the agonizing Marjorie, who is turned around emotional and even sexually by the liberating influence of Lee Green. John Reeger is good as Ira, a slightly self important and self-absorbed man but a still nice guy. Renee Matthews has become the local theater's resident feisty old woman and she does her thing to fine effect as the kvetching Frieda, just another in the long line of domineering and manipulating Jewish mothers on the American stage.

Hollis Resnik is outstanding as Lee, who wears her eye-popping lifestyle casually. She makes the character so attractive that her demotion to a plot device bad guy at the end is doubly problematic. Vishal Patel rounds out the cast as the apartment building's Iraqi doorman, a sophisticated man who can comfortably discuss Nadine Gordimer with the frustrated and self-pitying Marjorie.

The whole concoction is directed with nice comic sensibility by Kurt Johns. Richard and Jacqueline Penrod have designed the handsome apartment interior. The rest of the designer credits go to Elizabeth Powell Shaffer (costumes), Jacqueline Reid (lighting), and Scott Miller (sound). Well done all round.

The show gets a rating of 3 1/2 stars.

cast | press | photos | director's notes


Highlights from the Stead Style Chicago review by Joe Stead

Charles Busch is best known as the playwright and star of such gender-bending comedies as "Psycho Beach Party," "The Lady in Question" and "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom".  Six years ago, he turned his efforts on a more commercially accessible yet still edgy comedy, "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife."  The play enjoyed a successful run on Broadway and tour with a series of former sitcom stars (Linda Lavin, Valerie Harper and Rhea Perlman).  And now the play makes its Chicago area regional premiere with an A-list cast at Apple Tree Theatre. 

We are asked to sympathize with a bored, depressed, middle-aged doctor's wife with delusions of grandeur. Marjorie Taub is suffering from a mid-life crisis, the death of her trusted therapist and a sudden destructive spree in The Disney Store, where she is branded a "retail terrorist."  Her husband Ira is a retired allergist who now focuses his energy on charity, while her elderly Jewish mother Frieda never misses an opportunity to degrade and bully her, while waxing endlessly about her own bowel movements.  In her overly educated, unfulfilled life, Marjorie is a catalyst for a complete breakdown.  "I have ambiguities you haven't begun to fathom," she tells her husband. 

It is easy to imagine Busch writing the colorful, larger-than-life Lee as a character for himself.  She is the embodiment of all of Marjorie's repressed dreams and desires, and the perfect symbol for a cautionary fable. 

Director Kurt Johns has at his disposal one of the dreamiest Chicago Equity casts imaginable.  Real-life husband and wife Paula Scrofano and John Reeger join with local dynamos Hollis Resnik and Renee Matthews to deliver a riotously paced performance.  Scrofano's desperation is as anguished as it is hilarious, with Reeger supplying the benign charm, Resnik the smoldering sensuality and Matthews the angst-ridden guilt. 

They are a superb quartet (Vishal Patel completes the cast in a cameo role as an Iraqi doorman) that gets the most mileage...  The terrific Manhattan apartment setting is another feather in the cap for the accomplished designers Richard & Jacqueline Penrod, and makes the most out of Apple Tree's very small stage.

cast | press | photos | director's notes


Highlights from the Pioneer Press review by Robert Loerzel

Let's just say that Charles Busch's play, running now in a highly entertaining production at Apple Tree Theatre, definitely belongs to the "stranger comes to visit" category of stories, in which an outside force arrives to shake up someone's life.

This play, a hit in New York, is in great hands in Highland Park, with two of the Chicago area's best actresses playing the key roles.

Paula Scrofano perfectly embodies Marjorie's neuroses, mood swings and intellectual striving, while Hollis Resnik is coyly seductive and appropriately mysterious as Lee.

The rest of the cast is strong, too: Scrofano's real-life husband, John Reeger, playing Marjorie's do-gooder spouse; Renee Matthews as her exasperating and exasperated mother; and Vishal Patel as the bemused doorman who occasionally pops into the action.

The cast, directed by Kurt Johns, achieves a natural yet hilarious sense of humor. Near the end of the first act on opening night, the audience's laughter at each funny moment began to spill over into anticipatory giggles of the jokes still to come.

In the end, "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" manages to say some meaningful things about the way we find direction in our lives, but the show is also a very diverting couple of hours.

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Highlights from the Chicagocritic.com review by Tom Williams

Apple Tree Theatre in Highland Park once more offers a cute choice, Charles Busch's wacky boulevard comedy The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. This terrific comedy is part NYC shtick with hints of Woody Allen and Neil Simon and part fable that delivers its smart humor through a host of eccentric characters.  I liked this show and so will you.

The show boasts four of Chicago 's leading performers: Paula Scrofano, John Reeger, Renee Matthews and Hollis Resnik with fine supporting work from Vishal Patel. Director Kurt Johns brilliantly staged the comedy utilizing Richard and Jacqueline Penrod's exquisite Upper West Side apartment set to reach to all three sides of Apple Tree's intimate stage. We see four comedy pros deliver the shows fertile humor with perfectly timed jokes, punch lines and rejoinders.

We meet Marjorie (Paula Scrofano in a fabulous emotionally draining performance) ... With her vain but successful retired allergist husband (John Reeger in a nicely underplayed turn) ... Renee Matthews, as the foul-mouthed mother of Marjorie, was a hoot as she nailed one zinger after another as she laments about her bowl movements and exudes her negativity about life and her daughter Marjorie. Matthews sure is a master at dead-pan comedy.

When Lee (Hollis Resnik , marvelous as usual), a stranger from Marjorie's childhood, mysteriously appears, Marjorie comes alive as the two share NYC's cultural. Is Lee a phony who name drops constantly and tells tales of meeting and influencing world leaders, intellectuals and pop cultural icons or is she a mythical figure? Judge for your self. It fits since in many fables a character gets ‘stuck' and a stranger appears to show the way. If Lee is an angel, she sure is a horny one who seduces both Marjorie and Ira into a ménage-a-trois in a hilarious scene. As the funny play progresses, we start doubting Lee's intentions. Only the wary Frieda suspects Lee's insincerity but only for a while. The plot twists work and the resolution finds only Marjorie changed as the vague ending leaves open questions.

The Tale of the Allergist's Wife is a well written social satire that pokes fun at many pop cultural motifs and beliefs. The outstanding performances from all four actors makes this show a treat. You'll laugh and appreciate the depth of Chicago talent led my Paula Scrofano who once more demonstrates why she is Chicago's most talented leading lady.

Recommended

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Highlights from the Daily Herald Reivew by Barbara Vitello

Scrofano. Reeger. Resnik. Matthews. Patel.

Five strong actors. Five excellent reasons to check out Apple Tree Theatre’s production of “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” Charles Busch’s satire on Upper West Side denizens suffering from upper-middle-class ennui.

The story centers on Marjorie Taub (seamless work by the exceptional Scrofano) a Manhattan intellectual and self-described “cultural poseur” who has an emotional breakdown in a Disney Store after the death of her psychiatrist. The depressed Marjorie retreats to the high-priced, high-rise (an attractive, well-appointed condo designed by Richard and Jacqueline Penrod) she shares with de-voted husband, Ira (Reeger, Scofano’s real life husband). A retired allergist and full-time altruist, Ira, (a nicely understated Reeger who plays the part with befuddled affection), spends his time treating the homeless at his clinic and teaching med students at NYU.

Marjorie’s acerbic, overly critical mother Frieda (Matthews, in fine, feisty form) stops by to needle her daughter and complain about her ongoing intestinal distress. And Mohammed (newcomer Patel, who more than holds his own opposite this master quartet), the well-educated, under-employed doorman drops in to help with household repairs and serves as Marjorie’s confidant.

A chance meeting with childhood friend, the enigmatic Lee (a charismatic Resnik in a wonderfully ambiguous performance), an absolutely fabulous, jet-setting, Jill-of-all-trades, lifts Marjorie’s depression.

But this cast, smartly directed by Kurt Johns, make these caricatures interesting.

The key is the ambiguity underscoring the performances — especially Resnik’s. Lee’s mystique makes her sincerity suspect. Resnik’s performance suggests that Lee’s a fraud (albeit a perceptive fraud). But Resnik’s performance, especially her delivery of Lee’s final line, implies other-wise. She may be the genuine article. The fact that Resnik never lets us know for sure makes the character even more compelling and her performance, along with those of the rest of the cast, worth seeing.

“The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” ~ 3 out of four stars

Highlights from the Chicago Reader Review by Jack Helbig

In this turn-of-the-millennium comedy, playwright Charles Busch pretends to be on the side of unconventionality and sexual liberation, symbolized by an uninhibited friend who appears out of nowhere to shake up the neurotic, unhappy middle-aged protagonist, Marjorie. Then he spends most of the second act touting the safe upper-middle-class values he skewered in the first. No wonder the play ran for nearly two years on Broadway. Still, Busch gets in some good laughs, many of them based on Marjorie's horrible relationship with her aging mother. This production benefits from strong direction by Kurt Johns and flawless performances by the ensemble.


Photos

"Take the Prednisone as prescribed and listen to me... "

Ira (John Reeger) and Marjorie (Paula Scrofano)

"My therapist has died. I cannot replace that remarkable woman as easily as I would a dead schnauzer."

Marjorie (Paula Scrofano)

"...every morning I sit on the toilet in such agony. It would be a mitzvah if you could just kill me. Call Dr. Kevorkian. "

Ira (John Reeger) and Frieda (Renee Matthews)

"Mrs. Taub, I think we should leave it for a while and allow its golden light wash over us. "

Mohammed (Vishal Patel) and Marjorie (Paula Scrofano)

"My suppositories. I can't open the wrapper. That's what I came in here for. Not for the scintillating conversation."

Frieda (Renee Matthews) and Marjorie (Paula Scrofano)

"I love having you as my sous-chef."

Lee (Hollis Resnik) and Marjorie (Paula Scrofano)

"Yes, Mother, there have been times when I have been a complete and utter asshole ."

Ira (John Reeger), Lee (Hollis Resnik), Marjorie (Paula Scrofano), and Frieda (Renee Matthews)

"I feel like I'm in the middle of a Playboy spread."

Marjorie (Paula Scrofano), Lee (Hollis Resnik), and Ira (John Reeger)

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