Had to Be You
8 to October 8
The Washington Post
Had to Be You': A First Date With Destiny
Special to The
Wednesday, September 14, 2005; Page C12
If you're going to be held hostage after
a first date, it might as well be by Theda Blau. This wacky platinum-blonde,
with a personality the size of the Gulf Stream and energy to match,
is the heroine of "It Had to Be You," the piece of comic fluff American
Century Theater has selected as its season opener.
A Bronx-bred vegan who says things like
"The moment I met you, my crystals glowed," Theda has appeared in
"The Monday Mugger," "Brides of the Werewolves" and other seminal
movies. Despite a lack of acclaim in such endeavors, she's cheerily
sweating over her next artistic project: writing a six-act epic about
a Russian aristocrat who gets crucified upside down.
In other words, Theda has nothing whatsoever
in common with a suave, wealthy director-producer named Vito Pignoli
-- with the result that the two meet cute one Christmas Eve and wind
up bantering in Theda's apartment, where she manages to hide his clothes.
As we all know, the path of true love never did run smooth, and it
sure doesn't in this two-hour antic, which husband-and-wife showbiz
team Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor based loosely on their own romance.
The duo debuted the play in 1981 -- long enough ago to qualify it
for the repertoire of American Century, which is better known for
staging dusty classics like "Tea and Sympathy" and "Machinal."
Those chestnuts boast more literary merit,
but "It Had to Be You" is an amusing trifle, rendered all the more
entertaining in this production by Karen Jadlos Shotts. In the role
of Theda, she hams it up with brazen abandon, using a New Yawk accent
so broad it could fill Yankee Stadium. Bologna and Taylor wrote the
part as a cartoon, but Shotts makes it an engaging cartoon -- part
aging bombshell, part brassy dragon lady, part lovable waif. And she
lends authenticity to the character's daffy actions, such as flourishing
acupuncture needles, and producing a full roll of toilet paper from
her handbag in lieu of Kleenex. A sequence in which Theda flings herself
into a traditional Russian dance, dropping knee bends and strutting
in place, is hilarious.
Playing the straight man, Mark Adams's
eyes are widened in more or less the same appalled, baffled gaze for
most of the production. But then he's not helped by some of the creakier
plot twists that revolve around his character: a personal confession
Vito trots out at one point might as well be flagged in neon: "Crucial
Turning Point Here."
While not imbuing Vito with subtlety,
Adams helps keep the zaniness clocking along under Ellen Dempsey's
good-humored direction. Adding piquancy to the production is Thomas
B. Kennedy's gorgeously messy set: A Manhattan apartment cluttered
with laundry, stray shoes, kitschy objets d'art, balled-up typing
paper and a beautiful gold oriental fan. Not to be outdone on the
visual front, Rip Claassen chips in with aptly eccentric costumes
for Theda, including a violently purple evening dress and a pink coat
with matching faux fur.
It would all be an eyesore if encountered
in reality, but "It Had to Be You" takes place quite far from reality.
If it seems equally far from the neglected masterpieces American Century
usually mounts, that's not a strenuous criticism. Audiences looking
for profundity will be sadly disappointed, but those in the mood for
sheer froth may well be willing to let Theda take them prisoner for
It Had to Be You , by Renee Taylor
and Joseph Bologna. Directed by Ellen Dempsey; set design, Thomas
B. Kennedy; costumes, Rip Claassen; lighting, Ayun Fedorcha; sound,
Kevin Harney. Approximately 2 hours. At Theater II, Gunston Arts Center,
2700 S. Lang Street, Arlington. Visit http://www.americancentury.org
or call 703-553-8782.
© 2005 The
Washington Post Company
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The Washington Times
is a love story with sass
By Jayne Blanchard
Published September 21, 2005
B-movie actress Theda Blau (Karen Jadlos
Shotts) apparently never got the memo on relationships that states, "If
you love someone, set them free." The book "He's Not That Into You" would
have been lost on her. Theda is a take-charge, some might say desperate,
When she meets Mr. Right, she stalks him
from the comfort of her apartment.
Theda's kooky conviction that Vito Pignoli
(Mark Adams), an unctuous and unhappy TV commercial producer, is her knight
in shining armor forms the crux of Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor's pleasing
romantic comedy, "It Had to Be You," currently playing at the American
Century Theater under the direction of Ellen Dempsey.
Miss Taylor may ring a bell as Fran Drescher's
blowsy mom on the sitcom "The Nanny," and her husband and writing partner,
Mr. Bologna, executed a dead-on portrayal of Sid Caesar in the movie "My
Their collaborations, often comically documenting
the yins and yangs of their long-standing marriage, include the movies
"Lovers and Other Strangers," "Made for Each Other," "Love Is All There
Is" and "Returning Mickey." "It Had to Be You" combines the show-business
comedy with the classic theme that people who at first seem so wrong for
each other can turn out to be an inspired match.
As an actress, Theda's dubious claims to
fame are the movies "Four Boys Who Hate" and "The Monday Mugger."
It's Christmas Eve in 1981, and Theda figures
maybe a TV commercial will salvage her career. Clad in a pink fur coat
that looks to have been snatched off the back of a cross-dressing yeti,
Theda auditions with a stream of furious, funny chatter.
She doesn't get the gig, but she gets the
guy. Vito finds her interesting and trots back to her pigsty of an apartment,
where -- this being the early '80s -- they have casual sex. Vito's thinking
"afternoon delight... and my pants... get the heck out of here," but Theda's
She holds him hostage all night, torturing
him with feverishly acted scenes from her one-woman play about a Russian
lady who gets crucified upside-down. Vito, accustomed to a steady diet
of undemanding women, is flummoxed by the sprawling feast that is Theda.
Miss Shotts' Theda is a comic masterpiece.
Daffy, bighearted, ill-used by life but somehow unspoiled, she explodes
like a Bloomingdale's shopping bag, spilling color, texture and grab-bag
style in her wake. Attired in a platinum blond wig that even Carol Channing
might find too garish and Rip Claausen's gloriously tacky costumes (a
glaring purple number with feather trim and matching high heels almost
requires sunglasses to take in), Miss Shotts tears up the stage with her
easygoing physical comedy.
She makes it all look so effortless, whether
having her first taste of caviar while revising her play as she daintily
swigs brandy out of the bottle, or moving across the floor like a steam
engine on stilettos.
The character of Vito is the lone piccolo
to Theda's brass band, and Mr. Adams underplays the role to the point
of blandness. Mr. Adams is congenial enough, but he does not convey what
Theda sees in him other than a meal ticket. He also is about as Italian
as my Aunt Esther Rosenblatt.
"It Had to Be You" is set in the 1980s, and
to Miss Taylor and Mr. Bologna's credit, the comedy is happily free of
topical references that could date a play. Its stubborn sense of romance
prevails in any era, with the idea that no matter how much you put up
a fight, when it's right, it's right.
WHAT: "It Had to Be You" by Joseph Bologna
and Renee Taylor
WHERE: American Century Theater, Gunston
Arts Center's Theatre Two, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays,
2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through Oct. 23.
TICKETS: $23 to $29
MAXIMUM RATING FOUR STARS
Copyright © 2005
News World Communications, Inc.
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