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My Life on a Diet

“The Nanny”’s insatiable Sylvia Fine (a.k.a. Renée Taylor) gets a chance to break out from her pigeonhole.

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Renée Taylor in a scene from “My Life on a Diet” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Renée Taylor’s incredible fame playing Sylvia Fine, the title character’s food-obsessed, borderline vulgar mother in the TV series “The Nanny” may have pigeonholed her. The full-of-life, full-of-blintzes Sylvia made such an impression because of Taylor’s extraordinary comic talents, but there are far more riches to explore in this fine actress’ life.

Hence:  My Life on a Diet, a comically rich stroll through her career in TV, theater and film.  Written by Taylor and her late husband, Joseph Bologna and originally directed by Bologna, Diet is currently at the Theatre at St. Clement’s where a contagiously comfortable Taylor, elegantly attired (gown by Pol’ Atteu) settles down in Harry Feiner’s kitschy, carpeted set to schmooze with her audience.  Taylor, now in her eighties, begins with some self-deprecating humor about aging, after showing herself at various stages in her life.

Taylor, who calls herself “a food tramp” (a girl who eats around!), was born in the Bronx.  Her mother, Frieda Wexler, was obsessed with the glamour of Hollywood, naming Taylor for her favorite film star, Renée Adorée.  Frieda even consulted with Gertie Schwartz, the local gyspy/astrologer, who predicted great success for little Renée, who partially fulfilled GS’s prophecy by winning third prize in the Daily News Chubby Baby Contest!

Renée Taylor with photo of the late Joseph Bologna in “My Life on a Diet” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

Her father Charlie with whom Renée was equally close, impressed Frieda with his appearance in a Tom Mix film.  (Throughout the show Michael Redman’s witty projections show old photos—of her parents and friends, who will include Barbra Streisand and a staggeringly insecure Marilyn Monroe—and the places they lived and, of course, details of each and every diet she tried from Dr. Linn to Dr. Tarnover.)

Charlie’s financial instability had the family constantly moving and even led to the “Charlie Wexler Feast or Famine Diet,” which was exactly what its name implied.

Weight was an issue in the Wexler household from Renée’s childhood, leading Taylor to try one diet after another, including the “Lou Costello Protein Diet” which made her look like Lou Costello!  Not to mention her “Father’s Sister’s Favorite Aunt Mitzi’s Whitefish and Papaya Diet.”

She was accepted into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts but, in the end, wasn’t “leading lady material.”  She did, however, get to play Juliet, have a romantic fling that flopped embarrassingly, got to meet Grace Kelly and Judith Anderson, and also manage to plow through six different diets.

Renée Taylor in a scene from “My Life on a Diet” (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

And so her life led her to the Actors Studio and her friendship with Monroe and nightclub appearances and guest spots on TV and a successful career, particularly after meeting and joining forces with Bologna both professionally and romantically.

It’s how Taylor fleshes out her life and the people in it for 90 entertaining minutes and how she makes you care for her – and for them – through thick and thin that makes My Life On a Diet  a pleasure.  It all seems so inevitable and fascinating.

My Life on a Diet (extended through September 2, 2018)

Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.MyLifeonaDietPlay.com

Running time:  90 minutes with no intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (270 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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