Crotchety and cranky when she’s not being downright nasty, Olive (Marcia Jean Kurtz) is a piece of work. Best known as the “gimme the sausage” lady in the classic television commercial, she alienates just about every living human she meets but has somehow managed to attract the soul of the late Howard, a weekend drag queen, to inhabit her mirror in Charles Busch’s “Olive and the Bitter Herbs,” at 59E59.
But then everyone’s attracted to her mirror, from Wendy (Julie Halston), a good soul who helps the aging Olive navigate her life, to Trey (Dan Butler) and Robert (David Garrison), the gay couple that lives next-door. Only Sylvan (Richard Masur) is indifferent to the lure of the looking glass, perhaps because he’s so drawn to Olive herself.
Director Mark Brokaw keeps his tight-knit cast remarkably focused. Kurtz rules the roost as Olive — she dominates her living room, where the entire play takes place — but has lots of support from an amazing cast. For all her ill humor, Kurtz’s Olive is never grating — at least not to the audience. (The characters in the comedy would surely tell you otherwise.)
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Unlikely coincidences abound and seem perfectly in keeping with the reality of the play in classic Busch style. If it doesn’t quite reach the heights of “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” it comes close and is very much in its spirit. The humor is consistent and intelligent, and the plot is engaging throughout.