Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bountiful Laughs in 'Olive and the Bitter Herbs'

David Garrison as Robert, Dan Butler as Trey, Marcia Jean Kurtz as Olive, Richard Masur as Sylvan and Julie Halston as Wendy in "Olive and the Bitter Herbs." Photos by James Leynse.


it seems as if playwright Charles Busch has been outrageously funny forever, so it is no surprise that his latest work, “Olive and the Bitter Herbs,” elicits hearty guffaws.

CB revisits some familiar tropes with “Olive and the Bitter Herbs.” It is in a premiere run at 59E59 Theaters’ Primary Stages through 3 Sept. As often happens in a CB comedy, there are eccentrics whose stories overlap and intersect to hilarious effect.

In “Olive and the Bitter Herbs,” the ghost in Olive Fisher’s (Marcia Jean Kurtz) mirror is one of the few things she welcomes into her life.

Despite her relative good fortune, Olive remains a curmudgeon, bristling at minor slights and quarrelling happily with everyone. Her neighbors, Robert (David Garrison) and Trey (Dan Butler), are particularly irksome to her. Her selfless friend Wendy (Julie Halston) stages a truce, inviting Trey and Robert for cocktails at Olive’s.

During this visit the ghost also becomes a person of interest for each of her guests. That particular visitor is probably (or improbably) the reason that Robert and Trey continue to hang around. In another unlikely twist and out of the blue Olive is asked and agrees to host a Seder, explaining the title of the play and offering an occasion for gags.

Wendy (Julie Halston) is a good friend to temperamental Olive (Marcia Jean Kurtz) in "Olive and the Bitter Herbs."

Rounding out the little horde at Olive’s door is Sylvan (Richard Masur), the widowed father of the co-op’s president (like the ghost, unseen on stage.) He comes by to apologize for an altercation Olive started with his daughter in the building’s newly renovated lobby.

MJK is very funny as Olive, a mildly successful actress whose claim to fame was a starring role in one of those viral commercials some time back.

CB’s stock characters – angry and unpleasant New Yorkers, a bickering gay couple, a helpful handmaiden single woman and a mellowed-out retiree – are anything but stick figures as brought to life by a fine cast under the direction of Mark Brokaw.

Visit to learn more about “Olive and the Bitter Herbs.”

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