Friday, August 12, 2011

Olive and the Bitter Herbs *

Charles Busch's latest comedy, now in previews at Primary Stages, lacks one essential ingredient -- Charles Busch. As playwright, he is at his best when he is writing for himself. Alas, he is not on stage this time around. Although the cast (Dan Butler, David Garrison, Julie Halston, Marcia Jean Kurtz and Richard Masur) struggle valiantly to bring Busch's thin material to life, it is mostly a losing battle. Busch shamelessly panders to gays, Jews and senior citizens -- the very people most likely to attend. There is a dyspeptic aging actress, her unfulfilled do-gooder friend, the gay couple next door, the co-op board president's widowed father and a ghost. Mix and match. The comedy is more a series of setups for punchlines than a coherent plot. There is a seder like none you ever attended in act one and a sporadically funny series of increasingly implausible coincidences in act two. The set by Anna Louizos captures the look of a pre-war rent-controlled Manhattan apartment and Suzy Benzinger's costumes help define the characters. Mark Brokaw directed. I won't pretend I didn't have a few laughs, but the evening was instantly forgettable..Running time: 2 hours including intermission.

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