"Olive and the Bitter Herbs" a Comedy with Mixed Flavors
Olives are an acquired taste, a flavored fruit that varies with the color of its skin. The plant family it derives from includes jasmine and lilacs and in countries like Greece no meal is complete without them. First green, then red, then black, the olive is bitter if taken directly from the tree and would cause severe illness if it is not cured for weeks in a vat of spices.
Cultivated for 5000-6000 years, it is the source of much prized olive oil, especially the first press or darkest green. Its branches are a symbol of peace and abundance. But if your parents named you Olive, you might discover everyone doesn't immediately fall in love with you. This is especially true if you answer to the name Olive Fisher and you're an aging actress whose only real claim to fame is as the star of a series of commercials about luncheon meat. Being referred to as the "Meryl Streep of the Sausage Patty" might not be a satisfying line on your acting resume.
Come meet this cranky and feisty lady in Charles Busch's comedy "Olive and the Bitter Herbs" being served up on a silver platter by Square One Theatre Company weekends until Saturday, May 31 at the Square One Theatre, 2422 Main Street, Stratford.
Alice McMahon's Olive is pretty much mad at the world. Her acting career has been unsatisfying, her apartment is only rented, not owned like everyone else's, she's fighting with the board president, the custodial crew ignores her and her neighbors are driving her up her paper thin walls. She has outlived the loud and crabby lady upstairs only to now be plagued by the two men, life partners, who have moved in next door. Everything about them irritates her, especially when they receive their smelly installment from the Cheese of the Month Club.
A kind-hearted younger woman Wendy (Michelle Duncan) who has a history of helping elderly actresses and doing all things theatrical, tries to nudge Olive into more creative endeavors, but it's going to take a bulldozer to budge this stubborn fixture. Wendy arranges for the acerbic Trey (Jim Buffone) and pacifist Robert (Barry Hatrick), her unlucky neighbors, to visit Olive but no branches of peace are extended. Even an impromptu Passover seder (hence the bitter herbs) does little to change the tense atmosphere.
Into this hodge-podge of geniality wanders the perpetual widower Sylvan (Al Kulcsar), ostensibly representing his daughter, the co-op board chair, to defuse the feud between the women. His romantic overtures to Olive are quickly rebuffed.
Three events occur that change the dynamics of the group: Olive senses a presence, an apparition, in her mirror, a spirit she names Howard; Wendy gets offered a dream job across the country; and Olive has a television episode of a murder mystery being shown that night that she hopes will jump start her career. All the usual suspects gather and a string of secrets, confessions, revelations and coincidences occur. Tom Holehan directs this spicy and acidic dish that changes the flavors in Olive's world.
For tickets ($20, seniors $19), call the Square One Theatre at 203-375-8778 or online at www.squareonetheatre.com. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., with a twilight show Saturday, May 31. Take exit 32 off I-95.
Enter Olive's war with words at your own risk as she battles the world from her living room couch and few things emerge unscathed.