Charles Busch, author of the gender-bending fringe hits Psycho Beach Party and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, went mainstream with this crossover Broadway success, playing here in a national touring edition staged by Lynne Meadow (artistic director of the Manhattan Theatre Club, where the play premiered). Packed with Jewish-mother gags, New York in-jokes, and sometimes arcane literary humor–including the culture-vulture heroine’s improbably perfect pronunciation of such names as Hermann Hesse, Gunter Grass, and Thomas Mann–The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife stars Valerie Harper as Marjorie Taub, a middle-aged Riverside Drive matron gripped by depression following the death of her psychiatrist. Along comes Lee Green (nee Lillian Greenblatt), a long-lost childhood friend who has reinvented herself as a modern-day Auntie Mame. Lee (the mischievous and seductive Jana Robbins) rouses Marjorie from her self-pitying torpor–and inspires her to defy the oppressive influences of her overachieving husband and her mother, an overbearing kvetch obsessed with constipation and the Holocaust. She turns out to be a provocateur as well as a liberator, forcing Marjorie to confront long-unresolved conflicts and embrace exciting but threatening new possibilities. Busch, a Northwestern University alum, is an unabashed fan of Evanston-bred novelist Patrick Dennis–Auntie Mame’s inventor–and that influence is happily evident in this comedy’s bitchy wit, coy sexual ambiguity, and deft mixing of extravagant eccentricity and mildly conservative morality. Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe, 312-902-1400. Through January 19: Thursday, 7:30 PM; Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 2 and 8 PM; Sunday, 2 and 7:30 PM. Then January 21-26: Tuesday, 7:30 PM; Wednesday, 2 and 7:30 PM; Thursday, 7:30 PM; Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 2 and 8 PM; Sunday, 2 PM. $22-$65. The 2 PM show Saturday, January 18, is sign interpreted; call 312-977-1700.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chris Bennion.