the American Century Theater

Although it’s 1982 in the American Century Theater’s It Had to Be You, a copy of Stephen King’s 1987 novel Misery anachronistically sits on Theda Blau’s bed until she tosses it underneath, in anticipation of replacing it with a man. Still, its memory lingers. Theda (Karen Jadlos Shotts) is one of those wacky-actress heroines the chucklemeisters of the mid 20th century seemed to love; scripters Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna presumably created her and her reluctant seducee, TV-commercial exec Vito Pignoli (Mark Lee Adams), as outsize versions of themselves. It Had to Be You aims to be a sophisticated light comedy, complete with a late dash of pathos and a happy ending, but all the sweetness in the world couldn’t keep TACT’s production from leaving a sour taste. Maybe it’s partly because we’ve gotten ourselves just enlightened enough these days to feel annoyance, not amusement, at the image of a bleached-blond, motormouthed New Yawk analysand (“Pain makes me wacky!”) so desperate to land a husband that she throws her mink-coat-clad nakedness at a near-stranger, then hides his clothes and tells him he’s locked in and she’s cut the phone lines. She’s joking, but a convenient blizzard comes along to entrap her victim anyway. (Something to do with his not ruining his shoes. Me, if I had a pursuer like Theda, I’d run barefoot in the park and bareheaded in the snow to escape.) She’s not merely looking for a husband; she also wants a collaborator on her terrible, terrible play, and she thinks Vito’s got the right stuff. But as played by Adams, he’s got not so much stuff as stuffing—he’s like some animatronic scarecrow, with three vocal settings (normal, whiny hysteria, and bitter chuckle) and a handful of stiff, comedy-killing gestures. Acting is reacting, but his every move—looking out the window at the snow, searching for his pants—follows the script rather than what passes for reality onstage. Poor Adams had to have had a hard time breathing life into such an inert character; at least Shotts gets to have a little fun. Although she relies a bit too much on the channeled spirit of Fran Drescher, her Theda is as appealing as a clichéd, stalkery pseudo-feminist—she even lectures about Melanie Klein!—can be, a shapely bundle of hyperkinetic love-me energy atop fuck-me heels. She’s got a hopeless task, though; you can’t do a crazy-girl-meets-boy story as a drawing-room comedy in this wiser, more jaded age without either making the characters totally over the top or delivering some kind of Dr. Phil ex machina, and Taylor and Bologna’s script doesn’t allow for either. —Pamela Murray Winters