NEW YORK HUMOR IN “OLIVE AND THE BITTER HERBS”
photo by Tim Fuller

This Passover seder becomes a time of truce for (from left) David Alexander Johnston, Eric Anson, Susan Claassen, Susan Kovitz and Jack Neubeck.

Watching a culture clash take place in a haunted mirror during a seasonal Jewish holiday doesn’t happen often, but here it is at Invisible Theatre in a Charles Busch-wacky production of “Olive and the Bitter Herbs.”

James Blair is at the controls as director, with IT’s managing artistic director Susan Claassen flaunting her love for the eccentric in the title role of Olive Fisher

Although that title could well be the name of a popular vegetarian rock band, it is actually Busch’s way of framing Olive as eternally bitter about everything.

From the gay couple who live next door in her rent-controlled East 30s Manhattan co-op, to the noisy roomer upstairs (who’s dead now, thank goodness), Olive is unhappy. Not just unhappy, but unhappy-unhappy, expressing herself in the most creatively insulting dialogue directed at everyone else onstage.

On opening night there was instant recognition and constant laughter from the audience, connecting with her double barreled insider complaints common to Big Apple life at the middle-class bohemian level, a lifestyle delightfully expressed through the catchy set design by Blair and Claassen.

In the play Olive resents having become an actor of a certain age, still hoping for that big role – even though her career peaked some 30 years ago as the “star” of a popular series of commercials with the hook line “Gimme the sausage” (remember that vintage TV ad where the salty old lady kept asking “Where’s the beef?” Like that).

Acting as loyal band members in this ensemble effort are Wendy (Susan Kovitz), a retired theater manager who considers herself a kind of caretaker for Olive; Robert (David Alexander Johnston), also retired, formerly an editor of children’s books; Trey (Eric Anson), the gay companion of Robert; and Sylvan (Jack Neubeck), who is sweet on Olive and no doubt has a fondness for astringent wines.

All are popular veterans of the Tucson theater scene, carrying their roles responsibly and getting all their laughs. Each develops an identifiable character and keeps up the energy that builds as Olive becomes more taken by the unseen figure in her full-length framed mirror at the edge of the stage.

This spooky fantasy gets the mundane name “Howard,” but his presence is announced by the ghostly lights and eerie sounds you would expect from a spirit with a more fearsome handle. Howard never speaks, however. We come to “know” him through the comments of others.

Plot-wise, there isn’t a lot happening. Mostly the others are drawn to Olive’s apartment because of some past connection to Howard. There aren’t any labyrinthine trails to follow, no red herrings to dismiss.

The real fun is just in catching all the jokes, which are pretty good, filled with Busch’s over-the-top attitudes whetted by that New York edge. Exactly the kind of humor Classen can deliver so well.

“Olive and the Bitter Herbs” continues through April 27 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, plus a 4 p.m. matinee Saturday, April 26, at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.

All tickets are $28, group discounts available. For details and reservations, 520-882-9721, or visit www.invisibletheatre.com

 

“LOVE, LOSS, AND WHAT I WORE” COVERS IT ALL
The cast (from left) are Carley Preston, Avis Judd, Carlisle Ellis, T.Loving and Carrie Hill.

For the perfect girls’ night out, head downtown to the Cabaret Space at the Temple of Music and Art to watch a heartfelt and hilarious production of “Love, Loss, and What I Wore.”

Who knew that a woman’s wardrobe could provoke so many emotions? There’s a lot more to it than just having a lucky fishing jacket.

Nora and Delia Ephron knew, so they wrote the play – loosely based on Ilene Beckerman’s book of the same name. Now, Tucson’s own Amy Erbe has directed the show for Arizona Onstage Productions -- featuring Carlisle Ellis, Carrie Hill, Avis Judd, T. Loving and Carley Preston delivering a rich variety of monologues written with that inimitable Ephron snap.

Their stories follow a general chronology from childhood with its matching sister dresses, to training bras (training them for what, one asks) to the chaos of adolescence and beyond to the truly serious stuff.

Boyfriend break-ups are a natural, but getting equal time are the shoes and handbags.

If you want to flaunt your attitude, we learn, you just have to have the shoes. Forget about being comfortable. That’s never in the cards.

And if your shoes are your attitude, then you must have a handbag to match.

However, all this meticulous matching over the years can become quite stressful, until you finally shout “Screw it!” and get a tote bag that doesn’t match anything.

On the heartfelt side was the story of five sisters who loved their mom, and especially remembered how she always wore the same robe down to breakfast every morning. It had a wide stripe down the front.

But their mom died in her late 30s, leaving the girls without their family center. When their father remarried, the girls were happy enough – until their stepmom came down to breakfast wearing the same robe their mom had but in a different color.

When the oldest sister told the stepmom their mother had always worn the same robe, it was never seen again.

Staging puts emphasis on the stories, rather than the cast members, by having everyone wear black and sit in a row on tall, black stools behind wide, black music stands. The lighting is equally simple.

Once the stories begin, they continue to roll straight through life’s waves of experience right on to the very end some 90 minutes later – just like in reality, nobody gets to take a break and have an intermission.

“Love, Loss, and What I Wore” continues through April 27 with performances April 18-20 and 26-27 in the Cabaret Space at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $27.50 general admission, $25 seniors, $15 working artists and students. Group rates agailable.

Tickets online: 
http://www.arizonaonstage.org/archive/Loveloss/LoveLoss.htm

 Sunday,  April 20, the 3 p.m. matinee is a benefit for Voices for Education/Shop Your Girlfriend's Closet. All profits go to this organization for this fundraiser. Includes cast reception with light hors d'oeuvres and beverage - all seats $30.