WHAT “George and Gracie: A Love Story”
WHEN | WHERE Through Oct. 23, BroadHollow Theatre Company’s BayWay Arts Center, 265 E. Main St., East Islip. Upcoming: 8 p.m. Oct. 14 and Oct. 15; 2:30 p.m. Sunday; 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19. Also, Oct. 29-Nov. 13, BroadHollow Theatre at Elmont, 700 Hempstead Tpke.
TICKETS $19-$23, $25-$28 at the door; 631-581-2700, 516-775-4420, broadhollow.org
“Say good night, Gracie.”
That was the signoff throughout Burns and Allen’s vaudeville, film, radio and television career.
Except as I remembered it from TV-vaudeville? Hey, I’m not that old! — Gracie Allen repeated George Burns’ words verbatim: “Say good night, Gracie.”
But as Angelo DiBiase, playing Burns, insists in Deer Park author/director Tommie Gibbons’ nostalgic comedy “George and Gracie: A Love Story,” she said good night to herself only once during the eight-year run of the CBS sitcom. Burns played cigar-chomping straight man to Allen, whose shtick he described as “illogic logic.” Emily Nadler’s impersonation of Gracie’s public persona could give a new generation a glimpse of her comic genius, though on opening night at BroadHollow’s BayWay Arts Center the audience was exclusively made up of generations who recall black-and-white TV.
In an early innovation of sitcom television, invented by best friend (besides Gracie) Jack Benny, Burns routinely broke the fourth wall by directly addressing the audience. DiBiase does a fine impression of Burns except that he’s too tall — George sat on cushions to see over the steering wheels of his serial Cadillacs — and never lights his cigar. His raspy voice makes you wonder how Burns could have been a song-and-dance man. (Vaudeville demanded versatility.) His understated delivery and self-deprecating laugh set up the batty zingers by Gracie like a batting-practice pitcher chucking fat ones to Babe Ruth.
Gracie: “My sister had a baby.”
George: “Was it a boy or a girl?”
Gracie: “I don’t know . . . can’t wait to find out if I’m an aunt or an uncle.”
Their mutual affection feels palpable, especially in real-life moments when Gracie accepts the last of George’s relentless proposals. “You’re the only boy who made me cry. . . . I must really love you.”
The affection spills over to an audience fondly remembering a series that ended its run in 1958. Gracie died six years later of heart disease while George lived to be a centenarian, Oscar winner (“The Sunshine Boys”) and a stint as God (“Oh, God!” and sequels) before Morgan Freeman assumed the deity mantel.
But can “youngsters” who’ve barely (or never) heard of Burns and Allen relate to this show? More problematic, can they accept in a postfeminist world the “dimwit” wit of a cleverly ditsy blonde? We’d like to think her humor transcends modern gender politics.