My Life on a Diet is a 90-minute showcase for the life story of Renée Taylor
The first thing you notice as comedienne Renée Taylor steps on the stage of the Arthur Laurents Theatre at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center is her outfit: a sparkly gold-colored low-cut slit-skirted dress with a gold lamé shawl and gold-spangled sneakers. She shows us pictures of herself in her 30’s, her 40’s, her 50’s, her 60’s, and her 70’s before telling us she’s now 86.
She then proceeds to make the George Street Playhouse audience laugh for the next 90 minutes in her one-woman show, My Life on a Diet, with tales of her childhood, her career, her 52-year marriage to actor Joseph Bologna, and the many diets she tried in her attempt to become a slender leading lady. Along the way, she shares tales of her encounters with Jerry Lewis, Jack Paar, Barbra Streisand, Princess Grace of Monaco, Lee Strasberg, Marilyn Monroe, and dozens of others. She is charming, frank, and very, very funny, and you should rush to see her.
Ms. Taylor begins at the beginning: As the daughter of a would-be movie star, Frieda Wexler, who named her after her favorite silent screen star, Renée Adorée. Frieda’s husband Charles, an inveterate gambler who once appeared in a Tom Mix western as a dying cowboy, moved the family up and down the east coast. Frieda encouraged her daughter’s own dreams of show biz fame as the young Renée does improv and standup comedy, writing, singing, and acting, studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Actors Studio. Frieda also starts her daughter on a quest for the perfect diet, one which Frieda is convinced will guarantee her daughter’s success as an actress.
The play, written by Taylor and her husband Joseph Bologna, moves along at a quick but never rushed pace using the original direction by Bologna. Ms. Taylor makes herself comfortable on a faux-leopard-and-zebra print chair, reading the script from a small stand on a table, relying on her years of experience to relate the events of her life in a Bronx accented voice that is never monotonous.
The simple set, designed and lit by Harry Feiner with projections by Michael Redman and sound by Christopher Bond, is the perfect setting for the performing jewel that is Renée Taylor, clad in golden splendor by designer Pol’ Atteu.
My Life on a Diet is a 90-minute showcase for the multi-talented, sometimes raunchy, but always entertaining Renée Taylor. Her past has been more remarkable than one might think for the woman who played Fran Drescher’s mother on The Nanny, but she delivers with wry humor, touches of irony, and an all-embracing warmth.
If you have relatives visiting for Thanksgiving, this show would make a perfect appetizer—or a delightful dessert. I encourage you to spend time hearing Renée Taylor relate My Life on a Diet.
My Life on a Diet is presented by the George Street Playhouse at the Arthur Laurents Theatre in the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center through December 15, 2019. For tickets and information, visit georgestreetplayhouse.org/shows/show/my-life-diet/.