If You Ever Leave Me...
The show has a lot of parts and, frankly, it is less than their sum--but some of that sum is really something. Taylor and Bologna, who wrote, directed and star in the show, practice an old-fashioned sort of show business shtick. It's not for nothing that the opening video splashed up on the stage features images of Milton Berle and Sid Caesar; that's their comic tradition. You might say that this show plays to the parents of the people who flock to I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. Both are about relationships but, while the long-running hit at the West Side Arts is about falling in love, the Taylor/Bologna piece at the Cort is about staying in love. In other words: There is an audience for If You Ever Leave Me..., and you know who you are.
While some serious theatergoers will shun this production on principal, we would suggest that there is good reason to see the accomplished Taylor and Bologna recreate scenes from some of their plays. Those scenes are akin to finely crafted vaudeville sketches, which may say something about the plays from which they were plucked, but the couple definitely know how to build, shape, and land a comic bit. Their timing is so superb that they can take the most innocuous material and squeeze laughs out of it like a comedy juicer.
Kenneth Foy's set design for the show suggests a lifetime with trunks, suitcases, baskets, and barrels strewn on either side of the stage. Ken Billington's silken purple lighting further emphasizes the metaphorical presence of the couple's accumulated "baggage." In a sense, baggage is what a marriage is all about. Happily, the Taylor/Bologna baggage is often amusingly unpacked for their audience's nostalgic enjoyment.
A lot of younger people don't know the names Renée Taylor and Joe Bologna. Though Taylor was on TV as The Nanny's mother, the couple's reputation largely rests on their 1960s Broadway play Lovers and Others Strangers and the much-admired movie version of same, for which they received a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination in 1970. They also had success on Broadway with It Had to Be You (this was turned into a movie as well). They've made a career of writing and acting together in film, TV, and the theater throughout much of their married life; most recently, they had a long run Off-Broadway in their play Bermuda Avenue Triangle. They satisfy their built-in audience by giving them exactly what they hope to see: restorative humor about two people who have found a way to keep their marriage intact.
Newcomers to Taylor and Bologna may find If You Ever Leave Me... to be an oddly thrown together, unashamedly self-congratulatory exercise. The structure of the show will sometimes baffle you. For instance, why do the stars talk about the famous wedding reception they had on TV's Merv Griffin Show and then not show clips from it until 15 minutes later? It's amusingly romantic that Taylor and Bologna have renewed their vows five times, but why must they go over the top at the end of the show and pretend to remarry again on stage? The sheer pandering of this finale undercuts their earlier vows and makes those five wedding ceremonies seem, in retrospect, like show business stunts.