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Who Loves You, Baby?

nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
August 12, 2011

Sometimes, theatre makes you ask the big questions. Sometimes, it forces you to look in a mirror. And sometimes, it slaps you in the mouth, gives you a handkerchief for the blood, and says “Who loves you, baby?”

Celebrated actor, Greek, and wooer of ladies Telly Savalas, dead since 1994, is back—and you’re damn right he’s got something to say. The man called Kojak has been watching us from heaven and frankly, he doesn’t like what he sees. Unlike his castmates from The Dirty Dozen, today’s male is soft and weak. Patrick Dempsey (“McDreamy” on Grey’s Anatomy), Telly is willing to bet, “smells like hand sanitizer.” We’re also distracted by toys and video games, which Telly calls “Japan’s last and greatest trap. An atomic bomb straight to the libido.” These shortcomings have left a country full of women who cry out for unhinged masculinity and silk dress shirts that refuse to stay buttoned. But Telly has the cure, and he’s righting the ship with an intimate cabaret performance featuring a piano player, cameos by brother George, and his “interpretations” of classic love songs.

If this sounds old-fashioned and a little terrifying, it is. But a glance back at the mores and unapologetic fast life that fueled stars like Savalas is what makes Who Loves You, Baby? so enjoyable. Through his amped-up tales of helping Peter Falk search the floor for a glass eye, or his mockery of today’s celebrities, Savalas’s alpha-male posturing is fun, yet free from consequence. Was it a healthy choice to develop the character of Kojak during “53 uninterrupted hours” of coffee and cigarettes? No, but it is a heck of a story.

As Savalas, Tom DiMenna is hilarious and in total control of the persona. He’s cool like Telly, and thoughtful of every inflection and cocktail sip. Hunter Nelson’s script, delivered perfectly by DiMenna, is a comic masterpiece. Gut-bustingly funny from start to finish, it’s overflowing with outrageous stories, sensitive crooning, and some of the best punchlines I’ve heard. When DiMenna scoffs at “sex addiction” and screams “Never apologize for having an erection!” we know we’re in the midst of a master. Director Taylor Negron is smart enough to let the material and DiMenna do the heavy lifting, blocking the play just enough to keep it fresh and unfussy.

Taking inspiration from Telly Savalas, may I be so bold to say that you will not see a funnier play than Who Loves You, Baby? at this year’s FringeNYC.