Renee Taylor, who can make even bad jokes (and “Bermuda Avenue Triangle” has a million of ’em) seem at least mediocre, can’t wring a laugh out of “I’d like to throw myself out the window, but we’re only on the second floor.” Empathy, yes; laughs, no. An ethnic comedy written and performed by Taylor and husband Joe Bologna, “Bermuda” is heavy on the ethnic, light on the comedy, and will certainly have critics looking for the windows, second floor or not. Even a modest Off Broadway run will depend on whether the play can tap into its target audience — a market of a certain age or, put more bluntly, an audience at least as old as the play’s jokes.
Loaded with more stereotypes and ethnic signifiers than any 10 off-network sitcoms, “Bermuda” features Taylor as a chicken-soup swilling Jewish mama banished by her shrill, uptight daughter to a retirement community in Las Vegas. She shares a condo with her longtime friend Tess (Nanette Fabray), an Irish Catholic widow whose husband was Italian, thus upping the opportunity for any combination of religion jokes, old-age jokes, ethnic jokes, ad nauseam. Tess is the kind of character who answers questions in the negative with “When the Pope marries Mother Teresa,” and unpacks large statues of Jesus and Mary. Fannie cries a lot to make her daughter feel guilty, and unpacks large enema bags.
First taking the stage as they unhappily survey their new condo, Fannie and Tess (dressed in Halloween-costume old lady garb) spend the first act bemoaning their shared fate and establishing their particular stereotypes with lines like, “We Jews are very good at giving guilt” and “We Catholics are very good at receiving it.” The plot turns when the old gals bring home a well-dressed drunk named Johnny (Bologna) who rescued Fannie and Tess from a mugger. Naturally, the women let the incoherent, barely conscious Johnny sleep over.
Sooner than Tess can say “mulligan stew,” the smooth-talking con man has seduced his way into the beds of both his hostesses, resurrecting their long-dormant passions and reawakening their lust for life — as evidenced by the fact that they have traded in their support hose and granny dresses for bustiers and mini-dresses from “Le Trashy Chic” boutique.
Neither Tess nor Fannie knows that Johnny is sleeping with the other, nor do they realize that the horse-betting con man is playing them both for their money. How they can overlook Bologna’s wildly shifty eyes and obvious lying strains credulity as surely as the ample Taylor stretches her teddy (Gail Cooper-Hecht’s costumes lack both authenticity and wit).
While surrendering dignity for emotional reawakening might be part of the formula, it is nonetheless disheartening to see Fabray, long absent from the New York stage, strutting around like a refugee from “The Life,” or even Taylor, who co-wrote this play, flashing the con man. Despite the broad, unfunny direction of Danny Daniels, Taylor at least seems to have a good grasp on her character, while Fabray, with her tight, youthful face and make-up, isn’t convincing as the repressed old lady or the sex kitten she becomes. Bologna pretty much walks through his part as if he had something else on his mind (perhaps pondering how to make the con man’s sudden change of heart plausible), while Priscilla Shanks as Fannie’s psychobabble-spewing daughter overacts even by this production’s standards.
Chalk “Bermuda” up to another casualty of that cursed triangle — writing, direction and performances that prove anything but seaworthy.