For a working definition of chutzpah, check out the Cort Theater, where Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna are celebrating their long-lived marital union and career partnership in one of the more peculiar entertainments to stray onto a Broadway stage in recent years. This curious exercise in self-exposure — or is it self-worship? — has some funny bits of schtick in it, to be sure, but it’s probably only going to appeal to members of the Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna fan club, an organization that may currently be in some disarray, as its apparent prexy and CEO are doing eight perfs a week at the Cort.
The show opens with a simultaneously amateurish and overblown video segment intro’ing the loving couple via various celebrities (Sid Caesar, Regis and Kathie Lee, “Nanny” star Fran Drescher) and family members (son Gabe holding grandson Giuliano). Their significance thus established, the stars, who also wrote and directed the show, then take the stage to offer reminiscences of their meeting, courtship and 36-year marriage, cast in the form of standup comedy.
Much of the humor centers on the clash of their ethnic backgrounds. He’s Italian; she’s Jewish. Oy gevalt meets mamma mia! Joe credits the marriage’s longevity to belief in “a higher ideal, a shared spiritual purpose that’s greater than the marriage … pasta!” Counters Renee: “We have pasta at least three times a week. Even when I have a headache.”
The fusion of Borscht Belt humor with Italian-style histrionics is their signature dish, and not a bad one, certainly. It’s served up via excerpts from their prior stage and film collaborations that are mixed in with the personal material.
Some of the staged vignettes, which Taylor and Bologna enact with the help of basic, blue spray-paint-drenched scenery supplied by Kenneth Foy and costumes by Alvin Colt, are quite funny in a lower-brow Nichols and May way.
A bit from their play and movie “Lovers and Other Strangers” about a nervous soon-to-be-groom and his silently implacable fiancee has a good punchline.
Another cute scene from the same source depicts a pair of concerned parents trying to coax their unhappy son into remaining married. “Don’t go looking for happiness, Richie,” implores Mama. “It’ll make you miserable.”
Other segments, alas, are worn and tasteless, notably an overlong skit about an elderly couple negotiating a potential trip to the bedroom.
Taylor, probably best known to general audiences as the mother in “The Nanny,” is a sharp comedienne who clearly knows her way around a joke. She uses her put-upon nasal whine and wry, lopsided smile to smart and varied effect. Bologna is not as natural a comic talent, but he works hard and is an able straight man as needed.
Housed in a Miami Beach nightclub, this act would be right at home. But its somewhat musty humor and rambling, informal air seem a bit puny on a Broadway stage. And when Joe and Renee bring out the video from their weddings — the plural is not a typo, I’m afraid — audiences may get that claustrophobic feeling that comes when dinner hosts assault you with photo albums at the end of a long evening.
Then again, these are not your average wedding videos. Joe and Renee’s first nuptial celebration took place on “The Merv Griffin Show,” after all. And how many home videos have you seen that feature carefully timed reaction shots?