“It Had To Be You,” the charming two-character comedy by Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna, earned several standing ovations last year in its Circle Bar B Theater run. The odd couple of Sean O’Shea and Tiffany Story, along with director Bill Egan — together known as Acting Up Productions — are back for a second go ’round this year. They’ve moved, however, and have taken up residence at the Center Stage Theater for a production to open this Thursday.
In this swift-moving farce, a down-on-his-luck theater producer named Vita Pignoli comes to the downstairs apartment of the kooky Theda Blau, after she auditions for him. He’s come for what he sees as a one-night stand. She sees his enthusiasm as artistic interest and the visit as her big break, and insists he reads her “masterpiece” and help her find a publisher. The book is awful, of course, and the apartment is kind of claustrophobic, but Vito just can’t seem to leave.
The play opened on Broadway in 1981 with the playwrights playing the two leads, and has been a part of rep theater ever since. It requires only two actors, and a nice amount of comic skills.
Story confesses that she didn’t like her character on the first read.
“It was some time ago, and I was at a different place in my life,” she says. “It seemed to be about a poor guy being tortured by this woman. It was like ‘Misery’ without the violence.”
But when O’Shea gave her the play last year, he insisted she give it a second look. If O’Shea liked it, she said, then she knew she must have missed something.
But a second time around for all three means that complacency, not timing or staging, has become the important issue. To keep things fresh, they have thrown most things out and started again. That’s despite the actors’ tendency to ask not to fix what isn’t broken.
“Just like when he directed us the first time, he would force us to justify any decision about the character, and sometimes I couldn’t justify it,” Story says. “So we’re doing it again. It can be time consuming but it does make you really focus.”
Egan believes the nature of comedy, unlike drama, makes one want to return to a piece to make it better.
“Audiences laugh at completely different things,” he says. “There were things that didn’t get laughs, so now we can work on those and improve it. That was a great impetus for taking another look. … The audience is a viable character in a comedy, I think. You play with them, you ride their reaction and you make them a part of it.”
It was the chance to do something for a charity that brought the production back to life. And it didn’t take long to choose the charity. According to O’Shea, they just looked at Story, who already knew.
K-9 PALS is part of the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter, and aims to place dogs with adopting owners rather than put them down. Story, who babysits and walks dogs, used to be one of the volunteers. Seeing the amount of dogs that have to be put down would break her heart, so this charity was the obvious choice.
In a meeting, the volunteer staff assumed that K-9 PALS would get one night’s worth of proceeds. Not so, the actors and director said. Instead, they would donate the money from the entire run, a total of 10 shows.
“One of the girls started to cry; they were overwhelmed,” Story says. “I’d do anything for these guys. I love them.”
‘IT HAD TO BE YOU’
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday; through Dec. 12
Where: Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo (upstairs)
Cost: $20 advance, $25 at door
Information:(805) 963-0408, www.centerstagetheater.org