As with his 2000 hit comedy, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, Charles Busch‘s Olive and the Bitter Herbs concerns a mature, emotionally jangled New York City Jewish woman who’s prone to outbursts but whose outlook is changed as a result of a seemingly mystical occurrence.
This time, the woman is an actress famous for the immortal “Give me the sausage” commercial. Her ad for senior vaginal cream was yanked because of conservatives’ complaints, but now she’s attempting a comeback as a Holocaust victim in the esteemed series Manhattan Coroner.
And she’s a mess! A seder-masochist and a bit of a “provocateuse,” Olive rails against everyone who dares to breathe the same air she does, always convincing herself that it’s other people who started all the fights.
When a gay real estate agent magically appears in the mirror within her mirror — you heard me — Olive becomes a magnet for every agenda in the building, ultimately sensing that she’s affected lives and been connected to people in more ways than she’d probably like to think.
Busch’s play is consistently entertaining; the references to Joan Crawford, Tovah Feldshuh, and Phyllis Diller are a riot; and the cast goes for broke.
Familiar character actress Marcia Jean Kurtz is wonderfully abrasive as the stuck Olive.
Bristling with radioactive neuroses, Kurtz gives the play heft as as she shamelessly insults a supportive theater friend (the reliable Julie Halston, who has a priceless tantrum scene) and the gay couple next door (a sparring but loving Dan Butler and David Garrison).
Olive’s only real challenge is the three-time widow (Richard Masur, excellent) who spots the vulnerability in the virago, but let me not give too much away.
Anyway, Olive’s herbs might be bitter, but this play is definitely worth your thyme.