- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2005

B-movie actress Theda Blau (Karen Jadlos Shotts) apparently never got the memo on relationships that states, “If you love someone, set them free.” The book “He’s Not That Into You” would have been lost on her. Theda is a take-charge, some might say desperate, woman.

When she meets Mr. Right, she stalks him from the comfort of her apartment.

Theda’s kooky conviction that Vito Pignoli (Mark Adams), an unctuous and unhappy TV commercial producer, is her knight in shining armor forms the crux of Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor’s pleasing romantic comedy, “It Had to Be You,” currently playing at the American Century Theater under the direction of Ellen Dempsey.

Miss Taylor may ring a bell as Fran Drescher’s blowsy mom on the sitcom “The Nanny,” and her husband and writing partner, Mr. Bologna, executed a dead-on portrayal of Sid Caesar in the movie “My Favorite Year.”

Their collaborations, often comically documenting the yins and yangs of their long-standing marriage, include the movies “Lovers and Other Strangers,” “Made for Each Other,” “Love Is All There Is” and “Returning Mickey.” “It Had to Be You” combines the show-business comedy with the classic theme that people who at first seem so wrong for each other can turn out to be an inspired match.

As an actress, Theda’s dubious claims to fame are the movies “Four Boys Who Hate” and “The Monday Mugger.”

It’s Christmas Eve in 1981, and Theda figures maybe a TV commercial will salvage her career. Clad in a pink fur coat that looks to have been snatched off the back of a cross-dressing yeti, Theda auditions with a stream of furious, funny chatter.

She doesn’t get the gig, but she gets the guy. Vito finds her interesting and trots back to her pigsty of an apartment, where — this being the early ‘80s — they have casual sex. Vito’s thinking “afternoon delight… and my pants… get the heck out of here,” but Theda’s thinking forever.

She holds him hostage all night, torturing him with feverishly acted scenes from her one-woman play about a Russian lady who gets crucified upside-down. Vito, accustomed to a steady diet of undemanding women, is flummoxed by the sprawling feast that is Theda.

Miss Shotts’ Theda is a comic masterpiece. Daffy, bighearted, ill-used by life but somehow unspoiled, she explodes like a Bloomingdale’s shopping bag, spilling color, texture and grab-bag style in her wake. Attired in a platinum blond wig that even Carol Channing might find too garish and Rip Claausen’s gloriously tacky costumes (a glaring purple number with feather trim and matching high heels almost requires sunglasses to take in), Miss Shotts tears up the stage with her easygoing physical comedy.

She makes it all look so effortless, whether having her first taste of caviar while revising her play as she daintily swigs brandy out of the bottle, or moving across the floor like a steam engine on stilettos.

The character of Vito is the lone piccolo to Theda’s brass band, and Mr. Adams underplays the role to the point of blandness. Mr. Adams is congenial enough, but he does not convey what Theda sees in him other than a meal ticket. He also is about as Italian as my Aunt Esther Rosenblatt.

“It Had to Be You” is set in the 1980s, and to Miss Taylor and Mr. Bologna’s credit, the comedy is happily free of topical references that could date a play. Its stubborn sense of romance prevails in any era, with the idea that no matter how much you put up a fight, when it’s right, it’s right.

**1/2

WHAT: “It Had to Be You” by Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor

WHERE: American Century Theater, Gunston Arts Center’s Theatre Two, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through Oct. 23.

TICKETS: $23 to $29

PHONE: 703/553-8782

MAXIMUM RATING FOUR STARS


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