It’s easy to like Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna. For one thing, they’re incredibly personable on stage. For another, they’re still obviously in love after 47 years of marriage.
But, what seals the deal is that they’re funny – ranging from knowing-smile funny to chuckle funny, to laugh-out-loud funny, to guffaw funny.
All of these kinds of funny are amply on display in the couple’s latest show, If Ever You Leave Me … I’m Going With You!, performing through November 11 at the Welk Resorts Theatre.
The show business couple started their careers in New York (where, Ms. Taylor apparently performed at the Bon Soir nightclub, and a then-unknown Barbra Streisand opened for her), but they migrated to Hollywood, where they both made careers in film and television while still writing plays in which they could star (and, turning those plays into movies). Among those plays were Lovers and Other Strangers and Made for Each Other, both based on experiences with members of the couple’s large Italian and Jewish families.
The current show takes the form of a personal appearance consisting of the actors’ reminiscences of their families and their careers, along with scenes from their previous shows. Both Ms. Taylor and Mr. Bologna speak directly to the audience, and occasionally to each other, as they talk about their careers, tell jokes, and show home movies of events such as the several renewal of vows ceremonies (each done from the perspective of a different religious tradition) that gathered their families.
They also talk about family members who were particularly quirky and how they managed to base characters in their plays around those quirks. The actors grab a costume piece or two off a rack and play the scenes in question to illustrate.
What is perhaps most endearing about the show is how the scenes are also based on the Ms. Taylor and Mr. Bologna’s marriage. The “messes” in which their characters find themselves are common enough to relationships that audiences (especially those who have been married) can identify with them, and the couple as writers treats these “messes” with such good humor that while audience members would recognize the situation no one present would feel “blamed” for having behaved in a fashion similar to the characters. In fact, it would be easy to laugh at oneself by laughing at Ms. Taylor and Mr. Bologna’s creations. [php snippet=1]
The Welk ‘s production was minimal: a drawn stage curtain, a couple of chair-stools, a couple of coat racks, a couple of movie screens, some basic lighting, and a sound system, all of which were uncredited. Cues weren’t always tight (Ms. Taylor once insisted that lights be brought back up so she could deliver the last line of a sketch that an early black-out cut), but the feeling of the show was casual enough that everyone could laugh and go along with the flub.
Pre-opening publicity had indicated that the performance would be 100 minutes with no intermission, but on opening night there was an intermission at about the halfway point. Unfortunately, the intermission managed to stop the show’s momentum in its tracks, and regaining that momentum proved to be something of a challenge. As a result, the second half seemed to drag a bit and was less funny than the first.
These quibbles aside, if you’re even sort-of familiar with Ms. Taylor and Mr. Bologna’s careers, this opportunity to see them in person shouldn’t be missed. Better hurry, though – there’s only two performances left and both are next weekend.