by Claudia Perry
(Followed by an interview with Renee Taylor)
The husband and wife team that brought us the Oscar nominated "Lovers and Other Strangers", "It Had to Be You" and "Made for Each Other" - Renee Taylor & Joe Bologna -- have brought their Off-Broadway comedy, "Bermuda Avenue Triangle" to the DuPont Theatre for a week of laughter and comedic schtick. Truly a collaborative venture, the play was co-written and co-directed by the couple. Starring Taylor, Bologna and Lainie Kazan, the cast is rounded out by Anne de Salvo, Manny Kleinmuntz and Rita McKenzie.
Two elderly widows, one Jewish (Fanny Saperstein/Taylor) and the other an Italian Catholic (Tess LaRuffa/Kazan), are set up in an upscale Las Vegas retirement condo by their career oriented daughters. Trapped by years of unhappiness, Fanny weeps like the Trevi Fountain and the unsmiling Tess does nothing but complain. But that all changes when these two ladies cross paths with the charming scoundrel, Johnny Paolucci who rocks both their worlds. Fanny and Tess undergo a grand metamorphosis - from being two, baggy schmattaed, grey haired old biddies, into a pair of glam-rock golden girls.
With her little girl voice and impeccable delivery, Renee Taylor's jokes explode like hand grenades, sending the audience into convulsions. Lainie Kazan is so wonderfully entrenched in her character that even when her lines were a little sketchy, she still had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand. ("Tonight was a good dress rehearsal", Ms. Kazan said upon stepping off the stage, ruefully shaking her head.) Ms. Kazan, please know that the audience didn't care about the lines because we didn't know them. What mattered was that we knew we were in the hands of seasoned pros who were going to make us laugh no matter what and you most certainly did! Joe Bologna was just terrific with his energetic, almost manic delivery that kept the evening chugging along. Especially hilarious was the dance sequence between Taylor and Bologna where Fanny ends up in the most ridiculously contorted positions. Manny Kleinmuntz was very funny as the befuddled rabbi who thinks the women are having a m_nage a trois. And Anne de Salvo and Rita McKenzie were great as the two daughters who finally reconcile differences with their difficult mothers.
The reason we laugh so hard is that we can identify with these delightfully authentic, ethnic characters. Everyone must have an Aunt like Tess, the one that wears black all the time and never smiles; and one like Fanny, a sweet, gullible, unassuming, weepy doormat - even if you're not Jewish or Italian. In fact in this play's first incarnation in 1996, Tess was originally played by Beatrice Arthur in LA as an Italian, but when Nanette Fabray took over for the Off-Broadway debut a year later - Tess was changed to an Irish Catholic.
CP: Now, I know you started out as an actress. When did you discover that you were also a writer?
RT: When I was in ’ÄúThe Third Ear’Äù with Elaine May. She said that I should start writing things down. I would do all these improvisations and Elaine would say, ’ÄúIf you write them down you’Äôll be a writer’Äù. So I would write these jokes down on these paper bags at rehearsals.
CP: So when did you discover your voice, as it were?
RT: Well, ’ÄúLovers and Other Strangers’Äù won an Academy Award nomination so I guess you could say that it was pretty good.
CP: You’Äôre unique in that you are accepted as an actress as well as a writer.
RT: I think that every actress should write her own projects ’Äì create her own vehicles. I continued to write because the things that were offered to me weren’Äôt necessarily what I wanted to do.
CP: So do you feel a sense of relief, or a sense of accomplishment when you finish a project?
RT: Yes, I believe that writing is spiritual.
CP: The two women in Bermuda Avenue Triangle go through quite a metamorphosis from Act One to Act Two.
RT: All my plays are about transformation. Transformation through love --how love heals you -- how love transforms you. I feel that I was transformed by the love of my husband.
CP: I think the audience laughs, not just because the jokes are funny but because we love these earthy, ethnic characters.
RT: This play is about my mother and my aunt. We originally wrote it for Lainie. I’Äôve known Lainie longer than I’Äôve known my husband. This is the first time that Lainie’Äôs gotten to do it. (Nanette Fabray played the role Off-Broadway as an Irish Catholic. Lainie plays her as a Sicilian.)
CP: Do you feel that getting a play into production is harder than initially creating the piece?
RT: Oh, no, writing is the hard part. Putting up the play is easy. That’Äôs the fun part.