She may be 86, move more gingerly these days and kvetch about her aches and pains, but make no mistake: Renée Taylor’s still got it.
Taylor’s skills — as an actress, comedian, raconteur and Bronx-inflected everywoman — are on full and unabashed display in her hilarious, warmhearted one-woman show “My Life on a Diet,” now having its Los Angeles premiere in a limited run at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills following a successful off-Broadway run last year.
Taylor’s 1986 memoir is the basis for the play, a wry, self-deprecating survey of the star’s life framed by her eternal struggle with weight gain, poor body image and fad dieting. (She’s worn sizes 4 to 18.) She co-wrote the piece with her husband, the late Joseph Bologna, who helmed the show in incarnations before his death in 2017 and who remains its credited director.
It wouldn’t be wrong to categorize the play as a glorified staged reading: A shimmeringly dressed, bejeweled and big-blonde-haired Taylor spends 90 minutes seated at a lushly appointed desk (Harry Feiner’s eclectic set is heavy on leopard and zebra prints) recounting her tale off a red-bound script perched in front of her. She advises the audience of what she’ll be doing in a way that’s so disarmingly funny and Taylor-esque that you think: of course she will.
She puts her estimable acting, comic chops and deft delivery to hand-in-glove use, with an assist from humorously timed projections of personal photos and clips plus lists of the endless diets — some real, some joked-up — that have crossed Taylor’s often desperate path. (You’ve gotta love Aunt Mitzi’s whitefish and papaya regimen.)
Born Renée Wexler to the showbiz-loving Frieda and failed actor and compulsive gambler Charlie, Taylor (who assumed the surname suggested by a Broadway agent) zingily tells of her fortuitous ascent from bit player, Macy’s saleswoman, stand-up comedian and TV talk show guest to resourceful stage and screen actress; author (with frequent costar Bologna) of myriad plays, screenplays and TV scripts; and later, Emmy-nominated costar of the hit sitcom “The Nanny.”
But even when name-checking onetime cohorts Jerry Lewis and Lenny Bruce or early friends Barbra Streisand (We “were so poor we shared stockings!”) and Marilyn Monroe (she of the grape diet), Taylor keeps it personal, bringing authenticity, poignancy and ironic wit to the proceedings.
This is especially true of her stories about her courtship and marriage to soulmate Bologna, who, like Taylor’s devoted audiences, clearly loved her for who she was — not what she ate.
‘My Life on a Diet’
Where: Lovelace Studio Theater, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Info: (310) 746-4000, TheWallis.org/Diet
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes