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A CurtainUp Review
If You Ever Leave Me... I'm Going With You!

by David Lohrey
Don’t look for happiness; it’ll make you miserable.

If You Ever Leave Me... I'm Going With You!
J. Bologna and R. Taylor
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Who are these people? That was my first question upon hearing of this show. But then I am a theatre snob, which is OK, but a dumb snob is not, and you’d have to be dumb to let this show escape your radar screen. This is Broadway’s answer to the Pinter Festival at Lincoln Center, a lowbrow celebration of a vaudeville act that will not quit. Renee Taylor and husband Joe Bologna are out there, doing the old stuff, and loving every minute of it.

The story is, evidently, well known. A 36-year-old marriage, a wedding reception televised nationally on The Merv Griffin show, and then numerous multicultural marriage renewals designed at once to renew the marriage vows and to express mutual respect for their seemingly conflicting faiths, his Catholic, and hers, Jewish. All this, plus a collaborative writing career that includes such early hits as Lovers and Other Strangers. The entire show consists in the retelling and reenactment of this tale, told to the audience by Taylor and Bologna with dignity coupled with a marvelously rehearsed nonchalance. Nonetheless, if the entire enterprise were anything other than what it is, the audience would let out a collective cry and run from the theatre. What keeps them from doing so is the performance, perfectly timed and delivered with style.

Joe Bologna is a handsome guy. He is a dead ringer for Robert Loggia, but at times looks an awful lot like Syd Caesar. In any case, he is the kind of star who never will look a day over 45. Renee Taylor, on the other hand, looks and acts her age, whatever that is. She, too, looks great, and has a wonderful voice and delivery, but it is her silences that show her real talent. She’s a female Jack Benny. She knows just how to hold her head, slacken her jaw, and stare into space. You’d swear she could do it for hours. Unlike her husband who is never asked to look anything but dashing, Ms Taylor goes from glamorous to frumpy and back again numerous times, and pulls it off. She looks comfortable on stage and wins the audience over in no time.

Neither Bologna nor Taylor is especially sophisticated. They say very little that is memorable. Neither seems particularly bright. But they are geniuses at putting an audience at ease. Some of their material is hard to take. They write perceptive, honest stuff about married life. Some of it is painful. All of it comes from experience, but it is never cruel. This assurance allows the audience to laugh. The laughs arise from hearing what is recognizable. Some of the material is very much a case of "been there, heard that". But not all of it. There are a few choice monologues that deliver the real thing. The lines themselves are not funny, but they build. Written just this side of bitterness, there is a lot of anger and pain in this stuff, and the audience hears the scary stuff and responds. They laugh not because it is funny but as a release. "Someone at last understands!" This is the audience’s collective cry. Taylor and Bologna have a special gift for capturing with unerring accuracy the special torment of fighting with someone you love. You can say it’s funny when it’s over, but at the time you are driving 65 mph into a brick wall.

The set by Kenneth Foy consists of a jumble of costume trunks and rehearsal-hall furniture painted a purplish blue. The color allows one is forget what’s there, and focus on the actors. In this sense, the set offers everything and nothing, but works. A revolve allows entrances to take place in silence, and helps keep the pace up to speed. Billington’s lighting aids in the creation of moments from past and present, while Alvin Colt’s costumes perform the trick of making Taylor and Bologna looking alternatively wonderful or ridiculous as the script commands.

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I entered the theatre, but I learned a lot. Taylor and Bologna’s survival says a lot about show business, but most of all lends meaning to the expression, "They sure don’t make ‘em like that any more". And that’s a shame.

If You Ever Leave Me... I'm Going With You!
Written, directed and performed by Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna
Set Design: Kenneth Foy
Lighting Design: Ken Billington
Costume Design: Alvin Colt
Sound Design: Jon Gottlieb
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes including no intermission
The Cort Theater, 138 West 48nd Street (6/7 Avs). Mondays & Wednesdays thru Saturdays @8; Wednesday & Saturday matinees @ 2; Sunday matinees @3 (Broadway/Columbus)
Telephone: (212) 239-6200
Opening August 6, 2001, open run
Mon, Wed - Sat @8, Wed, Sat @2, Sun @3 (also performances 8/21, 9/4, 9/18, 9/25 and 9/30 (@7:30), no performances 8/20, 9/3, 9/17 or 9/26; $30-65 (student rush tickets $15)
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Reviewed by David Lohrey based on 8/10/01 performance

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