(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
What do courtship, sex, money, lack of sex, romance, birth, wanting more sex, parenting, children, squabbling, still wanting more sex, and anniversaries all have in common? Marriage, of course
Sounding much like a couple counseling session, and believe me as a life coach and counselor I've been part of these a lot, YOU SAY TOMATO, I SAY SHUT UP!, which is now in production at the 14th Street Theatre in PlayhouseSquare, is an often humorous, sometimes touching, but never hysterical, look at the life issues of Annable Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn. Yes, this duo has placed their "real" selves on stage.
This seemingly mismatched couple, who took over five years to date, not date, and marry, are not your typical duo. He is the emotional, loving, tender nurturer. She is a hard driven, commitment phobic, cut-to-the-chase person. She thinks of him as friend material, he is in love with her and her idiosyncrasies. He wants children, she could care less. He has to buy himself anniversary presents from her, she writes him a check to cover the cost of "her" gift to him. His version of having sex is raw body contact. Hers is lying back letting him do all the work. He wants a ROMEO AND JULIET life, she thinks it is a play in which the starry eyed lovers only were together for 24 hours and died. He regards parenthood as a loving commitment, she regards it as a competitive sport.
Often sounding like Seinfeld-esque shticks, or segments from The Bickersons, the hit 1940s radio show starring Don Ameche and Frances Langford, we observe the couple celebrating their 13th anniversary in a restaurant.
What we get is a bit of insight into what complaining, codependency and the right bottle of wine can do for a marriage, when the partners have decided that "We're just not that into us" but will obviously live their version of "happily ever after."
It's an expose that should strike fear into the heart of every single man or woman who is contemplating a trip down the aisle. It's the kind of experience that makes people make appointments with mental health professionals like me.
Kevin Bartini makes for a fine Jeff. A little chunky, a little emotionally overactive, he makes the character real. Gabrielle Mirabella is an acceptable Annabelle, but comes off a little too hard, a little too unfeeling. Not enough so that she becomes the "wicked witch of the west," but some breaking of the plaster mold might have helped
For those who like the production and want to relive the lines, or won't have time to see it, there is both a Kindle and hardcover version of the script available in book form.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: YOU SAY TOMATO, I SAY SHUT UP! is a funny, but not hilarious evening of theatre. It makes for a pleasant escape evening of theatre.
Tickets for YOU SAY TOMATO, I SAY SHUT UP!, which runs through FEBRUARY 17 at the 14th Street Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.