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The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife ; The Gondoliers

Topical, shmopical: It's a laugh riot

For introducing Charles Busch's 2001 The Tale of the Allergist's Wifeto Rochester in a tasty production, the JCC deserves thanks. I kept missing the play and can now report that the big fuss it received in New York and across the country was justified.

It's a Tony-nominated play by a drag queen, better and wittier than Busch's zany Psycho Beach Party, Die! Mommy! Die!,or Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. CharlesBusch didn't even need to play the lead female in this play, as I loved seeing him do in those others.But though it wittily satirizes contemporary urban angst, intellectual pretensions, fads and trends, and many kinds of midlife crisis, The Tale of the Allergist's Wife is basically a hilarious goof.

Its plot includes a semi-invalid, griping old mother yenta and three middle-aged folk --- her whining yenta daughter, her physician son-in-law, and a con-woman --- none of whom are exactly what they claim to be. Plus a doorman from Iraq. And despite possible forgery, fraud, sexual confusions in a menage a trois, threats of international terrorism, nervous breakdowns, and violent fights, a good time is had by all.

Director Ralph Meranto keeps this whirligig in frantic motion. The design staff provides a handsome production. And five well-cast actors manage to create these outrageous characters with sincerity, seeming to be unaware that they are in any way funny or foolish.

Davida Bloom is the intellectual housewife so distraught at the death of her therapist that she "accidentally" smashes large crystal ornaments one-by-one on the floor of an expensive shop. Cara D'Emanuele is her mother, a semi-invalid (unless she wants to stride away angrily) who offers vividly detailed bowel-related complaints whenever the others are dining. Roger Gans is the do-gooder retired physician who seems the voice of reason until tempted sexually.

Connie Neer is the wife's suddenly re-found girlhood friend, who wants to see how many ways she can tempt these people and sponge off them, while claiming to have known intimately the world's most famous and inaccessible celebrities of the past five decades. And Carl Krickmire makes a droll and real-seeming factotum doorman named Mohammed. Few upper-middle-class targets survive unsplotched.

--- Herb Simpson

You should go if you like Charles Busch's brand of hilarious, zany satire; if you don't believe "a good time" and "quality theater" are mutually exclusive terms. Must be able to tolerate the ridicule of the upper-middle class and contemporary urban angst.

The Tale of the Allergist's WifeThursdays and Saturdays through May 21; Sunday, May 15 | JCC Center Stage, 1200 Edgewood Avenue | $20-$22 | 461-2000 ext. 235,

A royal pleasure

Attempt to say, three times fast: "Life's a pudding full of plums, care's a canker that benumbs. Wherefore waste our elocution, on impossible solution?" Can't do it? This unfeasible task belongs to the cast of The Gondoliers, whose tongue-twisting, lip-tangling lyrics and 80 miles-per-hour beats are the work of the kings of the operetta, Gilbert and Sullivan.

Walking into the gymatorium of SalemChurch, complete with its basketball hoops and folding chairs, you may be reminded of the last elementary school production you attended. Don't be fooled: The Off-Monroe Players have been an underappreciated part of the Rochester theater scene since 1989.

The plot is worthy of a Shakespearean comedy, involving mistaken identities, a missing royal, torture, and bigamy. Fun!

The shining stars of the show are the Spaniards: The Duke of Plaza Toro, his imposing wife, and their distraught daughter Casilda. Tracy Burdick's frantic physical performance as the greedy yet likeable Duke can only be described as Don Knotts meets the Mad Hatter. In contrast, Ann Rhody, perfectly cast as the Duchess, is straight, strong, and stern. But it is Holly Corcoran, as the beautiful but blighted Casilda, who steals the show. She strikes each high note with ease, and her soaring voice inspire chills.

Director SarajaneFondiller updates the show by setting the second act in 1950s New Orleans. Although the choice allowed for awesomely decked out dames in crinolines, the Mardi Gras theme was unnecessary. The super-sized cast rollicks joyfully, but in ensemble dance scenes, the stage is crowded to the point that the twirling and flailing seems dangerous.

One would think (and, frankly, wish) that Gilbert and Sullivan could have told their story in less than 30 songs. But the cast plays them with such indulgent enthusiasm you can't help but enjoy.

--- Erin Morrison-Fortunato

You should go if you like a good-natured, over-the-top musical melee, full of tongue twisters, plot twists, and twisty dance numbers: basically, Gilbert & Sullivan.

Gondoliers Fridays and Saturdays through May 21 and Sunday, May 15 | Off-Monroe Players, SalemUnitedChurch, 60 Bittner Street | Free | 234-0500,

User-friendly dance

It's short, it's inexpensive, it's fun, and it's your last chance this year to see it. The Contemporary Dance Collective --- a modern dance umbrella group that includes Park Avenue Dance Company, Calabash Dance Company, Hallmark Danceworks, Hendrick Dance Project, and Present Tense Dance Company --- is doing the good and sometimes difficult work of expanding the audiences for modern dance. But they had the good sense not to leave the fun out of it.

To make the series what Calabash's Richard Haisma calls "user-friendly," CDC opened the series to choreographers, particularly young choreographers looking to show their work at a professional venue.Haisma describes the series as "unique, fresh, and full of vibrant young dancers."

--- Erica Curtis

You should go if you can't get enough of new, contemporary choreography. Or, if you're not a modern dance fan yet, but you're in the mood for some energetic, fresh entertainment.

Contemporary Dance Series Sunday, May 15 | BushMangoDrum & DanceCommunity Center, 34 Elton Street | 4:30 p.m. | $10, $8 students

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