at the Hermosa Beach
Married for 40 years, Joe Bologna and Renée Taylor premiered this wacky but heartfelt love story in 1981, when they were about the right age for the parts. Now he's 68 and she's 70, and even though they wrote the characters for themselves, the couple should leave their still-sharp script to the younger performers who annually revive this script in various community theatres. Sometimes it's fun to see how original artists handle material. At times these two do so with dexterity and an engaging sense of honesty. But most of the show's weaknesses come from the performances, which lack crispness to deliver strongly what remains a quite funny script. Bologna and Taylor as writers are so creative and enjoyable that their dialogue overcomes—barely—what they as performers aren't capable of conveying anymore.
Inspired by the couple's real-life meeting, Theda (Taylor) is a B-movie actress whose personal and professional lives have been failures. One snowy Christmas Eve she auditions for a commercial, and her charming awkwardness catches the attention of Vito (Bologna), who says he may have a part for her in a different TV spot. Theda elicits a walk home, and then matter-of-factly says to Vito, "I can't see you again if you're not going to be serious." From that moment forward, the spacey Theda acts as though their falling in love is a done deal. She also assumes that Vito will become her writing partner and help with her six-act Russian comedy, which is beyond bad—all several dozen drafts of it. Much of It Had To Be You, which runs almost two hours with intermission, involves Vito trying to leave and Theda finding ways to make him stay.
Bologna and Taylor have made slight script alterations to deal with the current era and to accommodate their ages. But as charming as the repartee is, Taylor's slow monotone delivery lessens the impact. Her Theda doesn't seem wacky as much as lost, and her sexy come-ons and her incompetence carry a tinge of sadness that takes away from the piece's innocent fun. Bologna's physical comedy is still decent, but his emotional range is lacking, too.
This is an increasingly rare chance to see a legendary writer-actor duo presenting one of its most famous works. On balance, it's good to see some of how it might have been back in 1981, even if the execution isn't the same.
Presented by Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse, Pier Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach. Tue.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Mar. 7-19. www.hermosabeachplayhouse.com. (310) 372-4477. Also presented by the San Fernando Valley Playhouse, at the El Portal, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Thu.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m. Mar. 22-Apr. 2 (818) 764-2400.
Reviewed by Jeff Favre