“It’s a huge part! I was reading an interview with Linda recently about it and she was saying when she first read the play, her inclination was to turn it down because she didn’t want to work so hard,” Charles Busch says.
He’s referring, of course, to the Tony-winning Linda Lavin, who scored a career triumph (and a Tony nomination) in his 2000 play The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, which premiered first Off-Broadway and then on the Great White Way. Now, the show returns to Broadway as a benefit reading for The Actors Fund for one night only November 18 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre—but with a new star as Marjorie. This time, it will be Busch himself playing embattled New Yorker Marjorie, who finds her mid-life crisis interrupted by the return of her glamorous childhood friend (once again played by Michele Lee).
But Busch wrote the script specifically for Lavin and her way with a one-liner (no matter her initial reluctance at taking it on). How will this quintessential invoker of fabulous divas play the role himself and under Lavin’s direction no less?
“I shall evoke,” he intones faux grandly. “Imitation? No. Invocation? Homage? Yes! I wrote the part with Linda’s voice in mind and she said the lines exactly how I wrote them. So it would be perverse to say them wrong. There will be times Linda’s going to feel like she’s acting with herself!”
Because Lavin returns not just as the evening’s director, but as Marjorie’s mother, a role initially played by Shiri Bernheim, who passed away in 2009. And though many things have changed since the play premiered at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 2000, Busch has revisited the original script.
“The play was written as contemporary in 1999 and there were a number of cultural references,” he says, “So I’ve done updates about every five years on the script. Michele’s character is this free spirit who, over the previous decades, has been everywhere and known everyone. She was in the room with ‘We Are the World’ and marched on Washington with Martin Luther King and gave Andy Warhol the idea of using the soup cans. As the years go by, different actresses object. ‘Well, this character would be quite old!’ I always do my best with the updates, but I think the original choices are the funniest, frankly, so we decided to say at the top of the show that it takes place in 2000. Your first impulse is the best one.”
So prepare to return to the year 2000—at least for one night. With Busch, and original stars Lee, Lavin, Tony Roberts, and Anil Kumar, you’ll be in wonderful company.