“I’ve never been in a show that requires so much noshing ,” Tony Roberts said about his role as Dr. Ira Taub in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife . The play–starring actress Linda Lavin in the title role–is a comedy about an upper- middle-class, middle-aged Jewish couple and their quest for spiritual fulfillment. Of course there’s going to be a lot of noshing.
Most of the food in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife , currently running at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, is ordered from Manhattan restaurants or purchased at local markets. For example, when Dr. Ira urges Ms. Lavin’s despondent Marjorie Taub, “You need food, real food …. I’m cutting you off a square of this Entenmann’s,” the piece of cake that Mr. Roberts offers is, at present, a slice of store-purchased Entenmann’s All-Butter Loaf.
But it wasn’t always.
From the show’s opening until about two months ago, the Entenmann’s box onstage did not contain an actual Entenmann’s product, but a loaf of fat-free, sugar-free, citrus-flavored angel-food cake specifically ordered by Ms. Lavin.
This cake was the work of Mark Hartigan, a freelance chef whose baked goods are no stranger to the bright lightsofBroadway. His English scones appeared in The Judas Kiss , and his carrot cake was eaten by the cast of The Diary of Anne Frank , including Ms. Lavin’s Mrs. Van Daan.
For The Tale of The Allergist’s Wife , Ms. Lavin requested that Mr. Hartigan prepare another cake for her. “It had to be no sugar, no fat,” said Mr. Hartigan. “I did practice cakes before the show started, and what I ended up with was a very airy white cake shaped like an Entenmann’s loaf.”
Mr. Hartigan said he wasn’t sure why Ms. Lavin ordered the special cake. “A lot of actors don’t like sugar, because it clogs up the throat and coats the vocal cords,” he theorized.
But Abe Morrison, prop master for The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife , had a different explanation. “Linda was on this special diet,” he said.
Thanks to Mr. Hartigan’s baking prowess, the dieting Ms. Lavin was quite contented. Indeed, through his years in the edible prop business, Mr. Hartigan believes he has learned how to please actors.
“Moisture content!” he exclaimed. “Moisture content is very important. Because unless there’s a long pause, the actors need to swallow the food right away. You want a nice, moist crumb, something that rolls off the tongue.”
But one night backstage, Ms. Lavin chanced upon a rogue Entenmann’s loaf that had been displaced to accommodate her custom-made, low-fat angel-food cake. She tasted a piece of the high-cal delight and informed Mr. Morrison that it would no longer be necessary to use the fake Entenmann’s.
So Mr. Hartigan resumed catering parties and preparing meals for Weight Watchers clients, and Mr. Morrison experimented with giving Ms. Lavin and her castmates different varieties of authentic Entenmann’s. “We tried the Sour Cream Cake, the Light Cake, the Marble Cake; we even tried a Sara Lee cake,” he said. “But now we’re back to the All-Butter Loaf.”
Asked to comment, Ms. Lavin declined. “She’s resting her vocal cords for two weeks,” her assistant said.
Onion Weeps For Shoshanna
Todd Hanson, a long-haired, bearded 32-year-old, has been a New Yorker since early January. He moved here from Madison, Wis., with the rest of the staff from the satirical newspaper, The Onion . As head writer, Mr. Hanson works on joke news stories like “Bush Announces ‘Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity Is Finally Over'” and “NYPD Apologizes for Accidental Shooting-Clubbing-Stabbing-Firebombing Death.”
With his girlfriend, an editor at The Onion , Mr. Hanson found an apartment in Flatbush, but hasn’t had time to really unpack. So far, his biggest highlight was getting drunk with one of his heroes, comedy writer Tony Hendra.
The Onion folks have made a big deal about how unhip they are, telling reporters how they plan to avoid swanky New York parties and such. So on a recent evening, Mr. Hanson was brought against his will to the Bowery Bar on East Fourth Street. Inside was a party for the new line of bathing suits designed by Shoshanna Lonstein, who first became semi-famous for dating Jerry Seinfeld and for having large breasts.
Mr. Hanson, dressed in a Motörhead T-shirt under a sheepskin jacket and jeans, took in the scene: disco hits, paparazzi, models in bikinis, a few celebrities, inflatable rafts, photographer Patrick McMullan, headset-wearing publicists, booze, chaos.
“I’m at a loss for words,” he said. “I keep making these involuntary facial cringes. I’m not trying to pass judgment, I just feel really weird.”
At the bar were some postcards of Ms. Lonstein and her breasts, barely covered by a cherry-printed string-bikini top. On the back was a list of “Shoshanna’s Top Ten Beaches,” which includes spots in East Hampton, Saint-Tropez, Curtain Bluff Resort, Antigua and Coney Island, Brooklyn (“mostly for the hot dogs”).
“I’d say a good six or seven of these are on my list of Top 10 beaches, too,” Mr. Hanson said. “Eliat, Israel! Not a lot of people know about that beach.”
Mr. Hanson looked around again at all the leggy underwear models and scenesters. “I might as well be wearing an aqualung,” he said. “I might as well be in a giant deep-sea suit right now. I feel like one of those Mars probes that rolls around and takes pictures. I belong here just about that much.”
Soon, a pretty young blonde asked Mr. Hanson if the D on the front of his wool ski cap meant he was from Detroit. She learned that the D was for the D train, said “Oh” and turned back around.
“Do you see that bus tub of dirty dishes that guy carried through?” Mr. Hanson asked. “That’s the only thing I’ve related to so far. I feel at home around bus tubs full of dirty dishes. That’s what I do, that’s what I am. I was a dishwasher for many, many years. I was really good at it.”
There was Donovan Leitch, the son of Donovan, the 60’s rock star. Mr. Leitch, who has tried his hand at rock ‘n’ roll, acting and modeling, is currently a documentary filmmaker.
“I didn’t realize he was interested in beachwear,” Mr. Hanson said. “I wasn’t familiar with that aspect of his career.”
Ms. Lonstein, mouth-watering in a red satin dress, was being photographed nearby. On her way to the dressing room, I introduced her to Mr. Hanson. She was friendly, but the conversation went like this:
Ms. Lonstein: “I can’t right now, sorry.”
Mr. Hanson: “Thank you!”
Mr. Hanson looked like he had had enough. “O.K., can we, then, go?” he asked. “Let’s, let’s, uh … leave –that’s the word I’m looking for.”
Outside Bowery Bar, Mr. Hanson summarized the Shoshanna encounter.
“Blown off by Lonstein!” he exclaimed.
“You, too,” I said.
“Hey, I wasn’t even trying to talk to her,” he said. “You know what we should do, as a contrast? Let’s go see what’s going down at CB’s. You like country and bluegrass and blues?”
CBGB’s was down the street. “There we go,” Mr. Hanson said, as he stepped inside and got his hand stamped. “I feel like I’ve walked into an oxygen bar.”
Press 1 for Heartbreak
Finding love is never easy in New York City, of course. Sometimes it seems like even the phone company is working against you.
At least, that’s how it seemed when the approximately 6,000 New York City subscribers to Verizon’s voicemail service received the news that the telecommunications giant planned to suspend its voicemail service for four hours–from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.–on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.
“Why are they doing this to us?” asked an incredulous Jessie Knadler, 28, senior editor at Jane magazine and a Verizon subscriber. “Valentine’s Day involves so much preparation, but what if there’s a last-minute change and you have no way of leaving a message for your date?”
The warning that customers would temporarily lose access to their voicemail boxes was buried on the second page of a Jan. 31 letter to Verizon subscribers, which explained that the company was upgrading its system. Instead of their loved one’s recorded voice on Feb. 14, callers would hear an automated message informing them that voicemail was temporarily unavailable.
It was bad news for anyone planning to deliver a message of love. Even single men–the kind who growl that the holiday is just a Hallmark marketing tool–complained that Verizon was turning their V-Day into a potential D-Day. “I would be mad and I would blame [Verizon] if I missed a call that night,” said Randy Makeij, 31, an information architect at the new-media firm KPE.
Verizon’s heartless scheduling even pained single valentines, who feared they would miss therapeutic calls from platonic pals. “I inevitably don’t have a date on Valentine’s Day, but friends call me on holidays, so it seems pretty inconsiderate of Verizon,” said Colleen Kane, 27, of Brooklyn Heights.
So what gives, Verizon? The company says it is switching its home voicemail systems from one supplier to another and claimed that it was difficult to find a date that worked for all three vendors. “It’s not intentional,” explained Verizon spokesman Jim Smith, who said that the company had already upgraded 100,000 voicemail customers on non-holiday Wednesday nights. “I’m sure nobody at the company was trying to thwart messages of love.”
AT&T, which doesn’t offer voicemail with its local service yet, wasn’t so sure. “I don’t want to take a gratuitous potshot at the competition,” hesitated AT&T spokesman Gary Morgenstern. “I guess the only thing I could say is that Verizon is shooting their own customers in the heart.”