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Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor to Peform Benefit Tomorrow for Barnard General Store

Joseph Bologna, Renee Taylor, The Premiere for Paramount Pictures - Flight - at the ArcLight Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, California. October 23, 2012. (Pictured: Joseph Bologna, Renee Taylor). Photo by Baxter/AbacaUSA.Com

Joseph Bologna, Renee Taylor, The Premiere for Paramount Pictures - Flight - at the ArcLight Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, California. October 23, 2012. (Pictured: Joseph Bologna, Renee Taylor). Photo by Baxter/AbacaUSA.Com

The fresh air, peace of mind and anonymity found in Vermont’s small towns are what Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor have found in Barnard, their summer home for 35 years. But Barnard has one thing that those other towns can’t offer: breakfast at the Barnard General Store.

The couple, who will perform their Broadway comedy If You Ever Leave Me ... I’m Going With You tomorrow afternoon at Woodstock Town Hall Theatre, had already collected an Oscar nomination for writing the 1970 film Lovers and Other Strangers and an Emmy for their TV special Acts of Love and Other Comedies when they took their first trip to Barnard in 1978. It didn’t take long for them to settle into the rhythms of life in the town of fewer than 1,000 residents. Summers saw the couple set out in a canoe from the house they rent on the east end of Silver Lake to the general store, which sits on the lake’s western shore. Winter in Vermont, Bologna said, was an adjustment for the Miami Beach-raised Taylor, known for her role as Sylvia Fine on the long-running sitcom The Nanny. Still, she made the journey with her husband on foot across the frozen lake for a cup of coffee and a plate of hot breakfast at the store.

“Every morning we would walk across the ice to the general store, past the ice fisherman in their shanties and Renee was bundled up like the Pillsbury Doughboy. ... We’d go for breakfast there, we’d go for coffee, we’d go for lunch. It’s just part of your life,” Bologna said this week in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

Barnard has long been the place that Taylor and Bologna, whose film appearances vary from My Favorite Year with Peter O’Toole to the Adam Sandler vehicle Big Daddy, have gone for a break from their working lives. Tomorrow, those worlds will collide, and for a good cause: a portion of the proceeds from tomorrow’s performance, plus the sales from all souvenirs, will be donated to the Preservation Trust of Vermont to benefit the Barnard Community Trust’s efforts to reopen the Barnard General Store, which closed in June after 180 years. (It’s currently open in the mornings for coffee and baked goods, and staffed by volunteers.)

The general store may be famous for its breakfast, deli and hamburger nights, but Taylor said those aren’t the only aspects worth saving.

“It’s community. It’s a feeling about all the people that lived there of all ages that come into the store,” she said in a separate phone interview this week. “It’s like family. It’s a very warm feeling. Vermonters are very caring, kind, friendly people. And it’s an event to go there, just to buy a box of cereal.”

For nearly five decades, Bologna and Taylor have been that rare Hollywood species: the couple who sticks together through thick and thin. Introduced in 1964 by a manager who thought the two would make a good comedy team, Taylor said she knew instinctively she had found The One. “His eyes were very open,” she recalled. “I just got a wonderful vibration. I just knew this was it.”

Looking into his future wife’s eyes, “I thought to myself, this woman is looking at me very funny,” Bologna said. “Then it began. I mean, I met her, and she scared the hell out of me, because one, I was a confirmed bachelor, and I knew the jig was up. I just sensed it immediately. That kind of scared me. So I kind of wanted to run, but I didn’t run too far, because in three months, we were engaged.” Three months after that, the two were married.

From the start, Taylor and Bologna have looked to their relationship for inspiration for their film and stage projects. The union of their large and loud ethnic families — his Italian-Catholic, hers Jewish — inspired them to write the play Lovers and Other Strangers, later adapted for the screen, and Made For Each Other, about a couple who meets in group therapy.

Their years together have been fun, but the couple has never portrayed their relationship as a fairy tale. In fact, If You Ever Leave Me ... I’m Going With You takes its name from some words Taylor shouted at her husband in the middle of a fight. She’d asked him to pack his bags and get out; as he was doing so, she joined him to pack her own suitcase. What’s important, Taylor said, is to not let resentments fester. “When we have a fight, we don’t have a grudge,” she said. “We begin again.”

The glue that has made for a successful partnership, in Bologna’s view, lies in the balance between their differences and similarities.

“Each person has to bring something new to the table. Otherwise, there’s no reason to have a relationship,” he said. “And Renee and I have had that quality of having that same sensitivity, especially toward our work and families and marriage. But in so many ways, we are complete opposites.”

Taylor didn’t hesitate to share the other secret to their success: “We have good sex, and even when we have bad sex, we talk about it, or write about it.”

“Wherever we go, people need to laugh and be inspired and love each other,” she added. “Our show is really a celebration of love and marriage, at a time when many people don’t believe in marriage anymore and in having a committed relationship, so it’s nice to share that.”

While their life together is going strong after nearly five decades, the Barnard General Store is in peril. The Barnard Community Trust needs to raise $500,000 by the end of the year to purchase the building. More money will be needed to get it in shape to reopen. The store was the heartbeat of the town for many years, and it needs to be again, Bologna said.

“That’s a hub. It’s a gathering place, and it’s got history and it’s got tradition and it’s got ambiance. And there’s a lot of love there,” he said. “We can’t let those things pass. That’s what makes Vermont, Vermont.”

Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor will perform “If You Ever Leave Me ... I’m Going With You” at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Woodstock Town Hall Theatre ($38, advance; $40, day of show).

Katie Beth Ryan can be reached at kbryan@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.