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My Life On a Diet

It's not really about diet. It's about what a fool I was to go on all those diets because I thought I'd look like movie stars. I was in Lee Strasberg's class with Marilyn Monroe and in class at the Academy of Dramatic Arts with Grace Kelly. I really thought if I ate what they ate, I'd look like them. — Renee Taylor
My Life On a Diet
When you hear that raspy Bronx-accent singing an old jazz tune, "I want the Frim Fram Sauce with oss-en-fay with sha-fafa on the side," you may think, "Sylvia Fine!" from The Nanny. No, but close. It's Renee Taylor, actress, writer and life-time dieter, telling it all in her off-Broadway show, My Life on a Diet.

As a child, what Renee Taylor wanted to be was a glamorous movie star like Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth, but that meant being thin, and thin meant dieting for the rest of her life. Back in those days, she remembers being shaped like a sugar cube who was put on "The Lou Costello Diet" at age 11, the first of countless ill-fated diets. Her determination for stardom and the necessary slimness came from her dreamed-of-being-a-film-star mother, Frieda, and her father, Charlie Wexler, driven by get-rich-quick schemes. Nevertheless, with pluck, indefatigable Frieda, the late Joseph Bologna, and an eternal quest for the impossible dream diet, Taylor used her humor, heart, and optimism and made it all work.

My Life on a Diet, traces her life in stories and photo projections ranging from pin-ups in her 20's (She was a knockout!), 30's, 50's, 70's, and now in her 80's. On a living room set lavishly accented by Harry Feiner with leopard skins and faux-Provincial lamps, (all that's missing are the plastic slipcovers), she is someone familiar, someone from the old neighborhood. Let's admit it, this is a show aimed at fans of old films and actresses "who had faces."

Although Taylor's doctor was doubtful about the strain of doing a stage show at age 85, Taylor insists, "I can jump! I can kick! I can do the Mambo!" She adds, "... in the pool. On dry land, I can walk and I can sit." Squeezed into Pol' Atteu's gold lame gown with matching slippers, her hair in bright blonde curls, Taylor strolls across the stage and settles at a desk, her memory nudged when necessary with a script.

"I'm a food tramp. That's someone who eats around." Anecdotes zero in on her search for diet hints, and who would know better than those Photoplay cover girls who inspired her. At the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, she met Grace Kelly and her first words were, "How'd you get to be so thin?" She tried Kelly's "Yogurt Diet." Years later, when Kelly married Prince Rainier, Taylor sent the royal couple a yogurt maker and received a hand-written note of thanks, inviting her to visit for tea and yogurt.

When the AADA did not invite her back because of her zaftig figure, a discouraged Taylor went on a weight-loss frenzy, trying screwy plans like "The Watermelon Diet," calling for six quarts of watermelon juice daily. She lost so much weight that when she was sent to an audition, she fell asleep before her turn to perform.

At the Actors Studio, Taylor met Marilyn Monroe and asked for her diet tips. "Grapes," said Monroe, but Taylor ate too many. She wove in anecdotes of meeting famous stars like Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Betty Grable, she went to a party at Hugh Hefner's home, dated Lenny Bruce and flirted with a nonresponsive Marlon Brando. It was Joe Bologna who brought her love and fame, although the dieting continued — except in his mother's kitchen where she ate heartily.

Taylor married Bologna, who died last year, and they successfully mined their life and times, delivering needle-sharp Bronx/Queens/Jewish/Catholic comic smarts. Her lifetime dieting was their last joint project. In their 52 years together, they wrote and performed in 22 plays, four films and nine TV shows, including Lovers and Other Strangers, It Had to Be You, Made for Each Other. As for her always svelte husband, "He loved me at any weight." As long as they could keep dancing. "He’d say, ‘Just don’t get so heavy I can’t dip you!’?”

The Nanny taught her that the audience gave her their approval no matter how fat she got. "That finally helped me lose weight. Like, now I'm on a fun diet. I'm a vegan...except once in awhile I have to have a steak. But, I buy a lean piece of meat, I add a cup of love, a bowl of joy, a punch of kindness and...I gefilte it."

Michael Redman's treasure trove of projections deliver the perfect Pow! to Taylor's memories. And there's a bittersweet ending. When Bologna took her to the Emmy Awards after The Nanny went off the year. "We rented an automobile and Joe took a picture of me sitting on the hood of a Rolls Royce, and I finally fulfilled my mother's dream for me."

My Life On a Diet is not classic comedy for the ages but you will have plenty of laughs for 90 minutes.

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My Life On a Diet Book: Renee Taylor and late Joseph Bologna.
Original Direction by Joseph Bologna
Cast: Renee Taylor
Set Design: Harry Feiner
Costume Design: Pol' Atteu
Lighting Design: Stefanie Risk
Sound Design: Jay Risk
Projections Director: Michael Redman
Production Stage Manager: April Ann Kline
Produced: Julian Schlossberg
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission
Theatre: St. Clement's Theater
Theater Address: 423 West 46 St. Telecharge (212)239-6200 Tickets: $30 preview. After opening, $65. 
Performances: Wed. 2pm; Thurs, Fri, Sat. at 2 pm and 7 pm; Sun. matinees 3 PM
Previews: 07/12/18. Opens: 7/25/18. Closes: 08/19/18.
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors based on performance 07/19/18

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