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Review: “Olive and the Bitter Herbs” full of laughs

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The Langhorne Players is a Bucks County Treasure. I capitalize “treasure” for emphasis for good reason.

They provide the area with some of the best theater from on and off-Broadway that New York critics rave about but seldom gets seen regionally. After a hiatus from COVID, we get to see more incredible plays mounted by this courageous band of performers at The Spring Garden Mill at Tyler Park. Welcome back. You are home to so many of us who love thought-provoking pieces.

“Olive and the Bitter Herbs” by Charles Busch will be there until May 14. Busch is known for movie parodies performed by himself in drag that challenge or examine gender stereotypes. But he also has written thought-provoking comedies such as “The Tale of the Allergist Wife,” where drag is not done. This show is in that realm and it is done well.

These pieces are drawn from, no doubt, his own observations from growing up gay and Jewish in Hartsdale, N.Y. The writing shows a fondness for the characters who are recognizable for those of us who have similar situations or have loved those who did.

Olive Fisher (Laurie Hardy) is an elderly actress living by herself in an apartment in the Kips Bay section of New York City. Primarily known for a set of sausage commercials, she is the Mr. Whipple of sausage. She kvetches constantly about everything. She is the type if you say “It’s a nice day,” the reply would be “You think so? Just wait. The neighbors will come home and probably turn on the TV loud and give me a headache.”

She complains particularly about the gay neighbors, Robert (Jim Gardner) and Trey (Lynn Baskin). Robert is an ex-children’s book editor and Trey is an unemployed children’s book illustrator. Robert is the more grounded of the couple and Trey is witty and acerbic. Trey parries much of what Olive says right back at her. The quips and one liners are many.

Olive has a younger, care-giving friend named Wendy (Sarah LeClair) who has her own dreams, which she has put on hold. There also is an unlikely love interest for Olive, Sylvan (Tim Irvine).

With all these characters dutifully assembled, something paranormal happens in Olive’s apartment. Her mirror is channeling a spirit named Howard, who lived in Key West and worked in real estate. Through this spiritual reflection and the actual interaction of all the characters, we learn of all the little points of interconnectedness that occur in our daily lives.

This is being recommended not just for the laughs from a lesser-known Charles Busch piece, but also to take in the marvelous performances of Hardy and Le Clair. Hardy captures the banter of a native, Jewish New Yorker and is endearing despite and because of her complaining.

LeClair has a sweet buoyancy to her performance as Wendy that she uses to hide all her frustration. Her monologue in act two is priceless and jaw-dropping. Kudos.

Lynn Baskin is cutely acerbic as Trey. Jim Gardner as his other half, Robert, and Tim Irvine as Sylvan do fine work as well.

I have mentioned this before, but it deserves repeating. This theater does work that no other theater in the area does. It takes courage to mount shows that are extraordinary that many have not heard of. The next show is the 2013 play “A Kid Like Jake,” about a 4-year-old boy and gender identity. Please support this theater which challenges us to think. They are a very special asset to our community. For tickets, visit Langhorne Players online.


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