As anyone who’s made the journey north to Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre knows, husband-and-wife producers Susie and David Couch start each show with a howdy-do to the audience. On the opening night of It Had to Be You, they leapt onstage to ask the crowd, “Any anniversaries tonight?” A couple celebrating 18 years of marriage hesitated before calling out their names. “She can’t even remember who she married!” David cried gleefully.
The pre-show banter set the tone for this play, a two-actor comedy written by married couple Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna in 1981. It’s an East Village, boy-meets-girl version of The Odd Couple: a story of two people who drive each other crazy and yet seem unable to leave one another’s company. Or maybe that’s because she’s locked him into her apartment.
As Theda Blau, Tiffany Story is a fantastically zany, out-of-work actress whose B-movie career has spiraled into a hopeless attempt to write her own play-a disastrous drama about a Russian princess. She meets resigned commercial director/producer Vito Pignoli (Sean O’Shea) at an audition for a cocktail mix advertisement, and, sensing his sympathy, drags him home with her, making no effort to disguise her desperation.
What ensues is a painfully funny interplay between the harassed but ultimately goodhearted Pignoli and his captor, a woman who tries to feed him tofu-and-spelt meatballs, prances around the apartment in a frilly pink negligee, and cries piteously when he tells her that her play is “caca.” All the while, a blizzard dumps snow, making it impossible for Pignoli to find a limousine ride out. For a while, it seems a reasonable excuse for his continued presence in her apartment, and then at some point, it doesn’t, but he’s still there.
Most of the howlers in this play derive their humor from pain. “My whole life up to that point had been a series of disastrous love affairs,” Theda claims. “A gynecologist, a bed-wetter, a bisexual-and that was just the first one.” “I can’t think of any man who would put up with you,” Vito retorts. “Except maybe someone who was gay and wanted to keep reminding himself why.”
The set is a wonderful extension of Theda’s personality: strewn with feather boas, faux Rococo cherubs, and tacky Christmas knickknacks, and first-time director Bill Egan has this Theda making the most of everything she’s got.
To the degree that it’s a self-referential riff on being a writer, It Had to Be You is satisfying and witty. But even at the level of pure slapstick humor, this play delivers two solid hours of laughs-providing you’re not precious about the institutions of love and marriage.