By David Schultz
Renee Taylor has brought back her one-woman show to her hometown. My Life on
a Diet is based on her 1986 memoir about her endless trek through all
manner of strange, quirky diet fads. Intermingled with her diet tips, an entire
lifetime of struggling with her weight issues, her reminiscences of early
childhood, her demanding mother, shiftless father, her beginnings as an early
student of Lee Strasberg at The Actors Studio, and her countless tales of
working with many actors on their way up unfold in hysterical fashion. The
bio-play bounces all over the place, and Ms. Taylor perfectly captures the era
with her impeccable timing and Borscht Belt humor.
written years ago by her late husband Joseph Bologna, he both directed and
co-wrote the play with Ms. Taylor. The postage-sized stage is ornately
furnished with a few pieces of furniture strewn about, with an overabundance of
animal print motifs running rampant... reminds one of Norma Desmond’s sitting rooms
from Sunset Boulevard. Ms. Taylor enters smiling, wearing a ball gown designed
by Pol’ Atteu, further giving the aura of a faded film star. Faded she is not;
she greets the audience forthrightly, smiles as she glides to a desk and sits
upon the chair behind it. On the desk is a copy of the memoir we are about to
hear. With an occasional glance at the copy in front of her, we are off onto a
gleeful, gracious and humor-filled 90 minutes with our storyteller.
starts the evening off describing herself as a “food tramp; someone who eats
around”. Her life-long issues with self esteem, comingled with her off and on
attempts to loose weight are brought vividly to life. She regales the audience
with innumerable diet fads…The Scarsdale Diet, South Hampton Diet, Marilyn
Monroe’s grape diet, the East Village bohemian diet, the Lou Costello diet….
and on and on. But don’t fret, interspersed with this plethora of food horror
tales, Ms. Taylor gives a beautiful evocation of her early years growing up and
dealing with her parents. Her mother, Frieda was strong willed and her father
Charlie, an occasional Hollywood extra, and trucker with a gambling problem set
the stage for young Renee. She was a plump, zaftig girl growing up, so dieting
was a given from the outset.
Taylor proceeds with her life story, giving a non-linear framework to her tale.
She gives a poignant description of wanting desperately to hit it big time in
the world of showbiz. A large screen above Ms. Taylor frequently showcases
photos and occasional videos that correspond to her rise to fame, with many pit
stops along the way. She auditions for Jack Paar and is frequently spotlighted
with various comic bits. In her acting class she shares her amusing and
intimate friendship with Marilyn Monroe, chats it up with Marlon Brando in
class. Her up and coming unknown singer friend Barbra Streisand share a
dressing room down in the village; she was the comic opening act. Ms. Taylor
bumped and brushed against all manor of the rich and up and coming famous folk.
But her longest and most fruitful collaboration both emotional and artistic was
her courtship and marriage to actor Joseph Bologna, with whom her worked
consistently until his death last August. Their stage play Lovers and Other
Strangers turned into a hit 1968.
was just the start. They earned an Academy Award nomination for best
screenplay. This was quickly followed up with a classic film Made for Each
Other that traced the couple’s courtship and emotional struggles to find
each other in heart and soul, with emotional baggage in tow. Both actors wrote
and starred in this very amusing autobiographical comic gem. This artistic
partnership lasted an astounding 53 years.
ensuing years were fruitful, with many plays, frequently putting themselves
into their own works. In later years, Ms. Taylor gained her most popular fame
in the sitcom “The Nanny”, her nasal patois perfectly matched by Fran Dresher.
This modest Jewish girl from the Bronx knew deep in her heart the world of show
biz would be in her grasp. The getting there, the ups and downs, the triumphs,
failures, pit stops along the way are brought to vivid life by this
overwhelmingly raucous and amusing performer. Her candor and pithy comic asides
hit the target throughout the evening. This, plus enumerable tips on food and
dieting…. how can you go wrong? A recording of Ms. Taylor at the outset of the
show sets the tone for the evening, an early recording of her singing…”Don’t
want pork chops and bacon…. That won’t awaken…. My appetite inside”. If you
crave a joyful, funny peek into a life well lived, this bon-bon will most
definitely sate your appetite.
Life On A Diet
at the Theater at St. Clement’s, Manhattan
through August 19th
Time 1 hour 30 minutes No Intermission