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October 25, 2002 - Image 80

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-10-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Gift Btiskets
Ssi-eet Tifivs

On The Stage

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The Allergist's Wife'

Playwright's outspoken aunts inspired Jewish shtick.

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INNS

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F,

crusty Aunt Belle, who really did
write that letter advising the Rev.
Jackson to go "flick [himself] with a
kosher salami."
There's also a tad of Busch in the
fictional Marjorie, the nice Jewish
girl who's reinvented herself as a
(German poet Rainer Maria) Rilke-
spouting intellectual.
"The self-invented person is a

Bernhardt."
Busch wasn't the first member of
his family to re-imagine his persona.
His Cincinnati-bred Aunt Lillian
fled her Yiddish-speaking, Russian
immigrant parents in 1932 to trans-
form herself into an artsy New
Yorker. Like the fictional Marjorie,
she abandoned everything that
reminded her of her less-than-glam-
orous Jewish roots, which
resulted in an odd religious
upbringing for Busch.
"We had a Christmas tree
and for Chanukah, it was
like, 'here's some candy," he
recalls. In lieu of a bar mitz-
vah, Lillian handed 13-year-
old Charles the key to her
apartment to symbolize that
he had become a man.
Busch, his breezy banter
turning tearful, recalls
Lillian as "a cross between
Auntie Mame and The
Miracle Worker.
"In the early 1960s, my
mother died and both my
aunts' husbands died and
my father remarried and •
moved away. I got lost in a
fantasy world of old movies
and was flunking school
until, Lillian stepped in and
made sure nothing got in
the way of my creative pur-
suits."

hen you're hailed as the
next Neil Simon,
what's a famous drag
diva to do?
Such was the dilemma that
Charles Busch, the purveyor of
Grand Dame Guignol, faced when he
penned his clever Jewish
comedy, The Tale of the
Allergist's Wift, coming to
the Fisher Theatre Nov. 5-
24.
It's the saga of "cultcha"-
obsessed Marjorie Taub
(Valerie Harper), who's
braving a midlife crisis
exacerbated by her smug
hubby, Ike (Mike
Burstyn), her alarmingly
candid mother, Frieda
(Sondra James) and her
enigmatic childhood pal,
Lee (Jana Robbins). The
director is Lynne Meadow.
The Jewish shtick —
including Frieda's hilari-
ously outraged letter to the
Rev. Jesse Jackson, signed
"Hymie from Hymietown"
— isn't what critics
expected from the creator
of movie-inspired camp-
epics such as Psycho Beach
Party and Theodora, She-
Bitch of Byzantium.
"People have been say-
Matriarchal Memories
ing, 'What a great
By 1984, Busch was starring
shockeroo that this little
in his surprise hit Vampire
drag queen suddenly wrote
Lesbians
of Sodom at an
a Jewish comedy,'"' says the
after-hours
gay-punk club in
amiable Busch, 47, sport-
the
East
Village
of New York
ing a shaved head and
Valerie Harper stars as the creatively frustrated housewife in the
City.
Thirteen
years
later, he
black jeans while lounging midst of a midlife crisis.
says
he
wrote
and
performed
on a cream-colored chair
a six-minute monologue
in his. West Hollywood
about a creatively frustrated
hotel.
housewife who was "like Medea, but
theme in everything I've written,"
filtered through this New York
says the author, who describes his
Jewish persona."
Greenwich Village apartment as "a
Jewish Divas
The character was so successful
cross between Sarah Bernhardt's
But the female leads are Jewish divas
that
Busch turned the monologue
boudoir,
a
bordello
and
a
1960s
— "big, flamboyant ladies with out-
Allergist's
Wife into a full-length play.
steakhouse.
sized emotions," he adds.
As
research,
he perused Yiddish
"After
all,"
he
says,
"I'm
a
self-cre-
They're based in part on his Aunt
dictionaries
and
Cynthia Ozick nov-
ated
figure.
I'm
a
middle-class
Jewish
Lillian, who raised him after his
kid who's turned himself into Sarah
`WIFE' on page 82
mother died when he was 7; and his

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10/25
2002

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80 seNseSseNilieNwe lS.

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