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It Had to Be You
September 8 to October 8

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The Washington Post

'It Had to Be You': A First Date With Destiny

By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
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 a while.

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

'You' 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, woman.

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 Favorite Year."

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 thinking forever.

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.

**1/2

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

PHONE: 703/998-4555

MAXIMUM RATING FOUR STARS

Copyright © 2005 News World Communications, Inc.

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