Oscar E Moore

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Olive and the Bitter Herbs – Oy vey! Off-B’way

August 17th, 2011 by Oscar E Moore

Can it really be that Charles Busch has written this one dimensional play?  Or has it been written by the ghost in the mirror, a man named Howard?  Or has April Fools Day come around again to taunt us?  

This is not your typical laugh fest created by Mr. Busch.  No drag queens.  No glamour-puss-actress.  No sense as to what is going on at Primary Stages at 59 E 59 Street until September 3rd and insipidly directed by Mark Brokaw.   

It’s as if Mr. Busch had all these ideas and characters stored away in a box, put in his hand, pulled some out and created the preposterous plot of Olive and the Bitter Herbs, which I have renamed Olive of the Bitter Tongue – after its central character Olive (Marcia Jean Kurtz). 

Olive is an actress in her sixties (I’m being kind) who is opinionated, combative, totally unlikable and Jewish.  A woman whose main claim to fame is being the “sausage lady” (kosher?) in a popular TV commercial and is “the last surviving renter” in her co-op building in Kips Bay.

Olive is a woman who hates her gay neighbors Trey, just as bitchy as Olive (Dan Butler) and Robert (David Garrison) heart attack survivor – working in Kiddie Lit – not because they are gay but because of the horrible smell of gourmet cheese seeping through their walls from their apartment that they have recently moved into where Olive discovered the past owner dead in her bed that they bought from her estate.  Just an example. 

Olive is a reprehensible woman who is looked after by non-relative Wendy (Julie Halston) who is connected to some theatrical enterprise but is up for a job in LA and has invited Trey and Robert over for drinks. 

Then there is the peacemaker Sylvan (Richard Masur) a widower three times over who is the father of the President of the Co-Op Board who is visiting from Buenos Aires.  And finally Howard the mysterious man in the mirror that everyone is drawn to.  Everyone on stage, that is.

We care little for any of them.  Except when they get to say some of the sometimes funny one-liners inserted to keep this show running through to the second act.  The highlight of Act I (I’m being kind) is an abridged Seder.  I have always wanted to go to a Seder but this play has cured me of that wish.   During intermission I wondered if Chanukah awaited celebration in Act II.

No.  It’s the viewing of a TV movie that Olive (a Holocaust survivor) has starred in with disastrous results that lead to the unbelievable ending where we discover the importance of being Howard.

Perhaps if Mr. Busch played Olive…No, that wouldn’t work either.

www.primarystages.org  Photo:  Jamaes Leynse

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