Renée Taylor shows some photographs of herself early in her autobiographical one-woman show, “My Life on a Diet,” which the George Street Playhouse is presenting at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center through Dec. 15.
“This is me in my 80s,” she says of one, before deadpanning: “But I can play older.”
Moments later, she describes herself as a “food tramp … that is, someone who eats around.”
Taylor, now 86, published a memoir, “My Life on a Diet: Confessions of a Hollywood Diet Junkie,” in 1986, and she and her late husband, Joe Bologna, adapted it into this multimedia monologue; Taylor has been presenting it at various locations for the last six years or so. Bologna, who died in 2017, co-wrote it and is still credited as its director.
As you might suspect from the two quotes above, this show is not a deeply introspective exploration of the psychic toll that the pressure for an actress to be thin has taken on Taylor (who describes herself as zaftig). She talks about the many diets she has undertaken, but mostly with a shrug and/or a wisecrack.
Taylor sits at a desk for virtually the entire show, talking, while old photos and, at times, diet guidelines are shown on a screen above her.
It never quite feels like she’s just sitting in a room with you, telling stories: She often sounds a bit rigid as she delivers her lines, and never really achieves a casual, naturalistic flow. But that doesn’t really matter when you’ve lived a life as rich as hers, and have got some amusing things to say about just about everything.
She doesn’t go into depth about her marriage to Bologna. Sure, she tells a few stories about him. But that 52-year union (which was both personal and professional: They often worked together) doesn’t really take up much space in the production.
She focuses, instead, on her early years as a struggling actress, and the many famous actors and other celebrities she met then, and later: Her friendships with Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Barbra Streisand; her years spent studying with Method Acting guru Lee Strasberg; her flirtation with Marlon Brando. Not to mention encounters with Jerry Lewis and Lenny Bruce and Betty Grable … the list goes on and on.
One anecdote is about auditioning for the 1956 Tennessee Williams-written movie, “Baby Doll.” A Bronx native, she affected a Southern accent to give herself a better shot at the role. “Excuse me,” Williams interrupted. “What part of New York are you from?”
She paints memorable sketches of her parents, too, and, of course, spends a little time on the role that probably made her most famous: Sylvia Fine, the mother of the main character in the hit sitcom, “The Nanny,” in the ’90s.
Taylor has lived too much life to be able to fit it all into a 90-minute, intermission-less play. But “My Life on a Diet” is still fun, breezy and reliably entertaining — in dieting terminology, it will satisfy you without really filling you up — as well as absolute catnip for those who love insiders’ Hollywood stories.
The George Street Playhouse is presenting “My Life on a Diet” at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center through Dec. 15. Visit georgestreetplayhouse.org.
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.