Theatre Review by Matthew Murray
NEW YORK - August 7, 2001
If You Ever Leave Me...I'm Going With You! Written and directed by and starring Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna. Scenic design by Kenneth Foy. Costume design by Alvin Colt. Lighting design by Ken Billington. Sound design by Jon Gottlieb.
Two of the major secrets to Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna's successful marriage, we learn in their new show If You Ever Leave Me . . . I'm Going With You!, are pasta (three times a week, even if you have a headache) and comedy. The two performers do more at the Cort Theatre with comedy than they do with pasta, which perhaps explains why their show leaves you with an empty stomach.
Through the intermissionless 100 minutes of the show we are taken on a whirlwind ride through their marriage, punctuated by anecdotes, film clips, and presentations of segments from some of the many plays and movies they have written together, including Lovers and Other Strangers, It Had To Be You, Acts of Love and Other Comedies, and Bermuda Avenue Triangle. All of the pieces of the show are intended to come together to give you meaningful insight into their and life and marriage, and make you laugh as well.
The comedy is there, but the insight is all too frequently lacking. The two performers do their best to present the show's comedy scenes within the context of their life or the people they know, but they only occasionally succeed. For example, though they tell us that Taylor's mother appears in one form or another in nearly all of their works, they expect us to merely take their word for it. In the end, we must, because we don't really know these people. Likewise, Bologna's story about his father's reaction to his marriage is entertaining but not enlightening; neither Taylor or Bologna makes the elements of their life truly relevant to ours.
It is because of this that the very premise of the show fails. Because we never truly see their vulnerable, more human sides, it is difficult to understand exactly what has made their marriage of 36 years work; we simply have to trust what they tell us. The structure of the show, similiar to a comedy or nightclub act, does not help, making the speeches, dialogue, and even audience banter, while never unpleasant, sound and look too over-rehearsed to provide the spontaneity and immediacy the material itself demands.
Irrespective of the show's other problems, Taylor and Bologna at least will deliver what you expect. Though the over-comfortable rapport they have with each other robs their narration of some of its potential impact, it has the side-effect of providing the scenes they perform with an undeniable chemistry. Their direction, while mostly slight, always serves the material, as do Alvin Colt's costumes and Ken Billington's lights. Kenneth Foy's scenic design, which seems to suggest a theater stage, a soundstage, and an attic all at once, comes dangerously close to being overdone.
The final scene of the show is the one that comes the closest to working, and it is perhaps wise that it ends the show. It is the one time that the audience is allowed to share in something at least symbolically special to Taylor and Bologna. Though it seems in many ways as forced as the rest of the show, at least there is the resonation of truth and meaning in it that everyone can relate to. Unfortunately, without that, the rest of If You Ever Leave Me . . . I'm Going With You! leaves all too quickly.