You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up! is an odd name for a show, but it does a great job of summing the whole thing up. It’s a duet of a play – only a husband and wife appear on stage – and it’s a tête-à-tête that zings back and forth with spit-fire speed. And in that timeless tomato – tomahto debate, there comes a point when someone just says Shut Up! Just like in marriage.
You Say Tomato was conceived and written by Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn (who are, incidentally, the names of the two main characters of the play). Gurwitch was the host of TBS’s Dinner and a Movie, and Kahn worked on the Ben Stiller Show and the 40 Year Old Virgin. You Say Tomato premiered in New York in 2009 to positive reviews and since then has gone on tour to various parts of the country. Director Van Kaplan, knowing a gem when he sees one, set it up at the Cabaret, a perfect venue for an intimate show about love and marriage.
Speaking of venue, can I get a whut-whut for Tony Ferrieri and his amazing scenic design? Having just seen his gorgeous design at City Theater for Seminar, I didn’t think I could get anymore blown away by his creativity. (I wanted to live in that set). But wow, was I proven wrong! It’s no secret the Cabaret switches up the stage design for nearly every show, but Mr. Ferrieri really outdid himself here. Not only was the stage immaculately dressed as a romantic restaurant, but the effects and lighting even extended out into the audience. The whole theater was like one big set design. It was gorgeous.
Now, onto the show itself. You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up! is, as I said before, a quick, fast-paced play that lasts only 1 hour and 15 minutes. The show focuses on married couple Annabelle and Jeff, played by Robin Abramson and Gregory Johnstone. It’s their 10 year anniversary and Jeff is talking with the audience (you read that right; no invisible fourth wall here; both characters regularly speak to the audience throughout the show) as he waits for his wife to join him. She’s running 15 minutes late. When she finally arrives, they both sit down and that’s when the talking starts – equal parts loving teases and tension-filled bickering. From the first time they met to why they aren’t friends on Facebook to what their goals are with their marriage to how often they have sex, no topic goes unturned.
Robin is a staple in the Pittsburgh arts scene. In 2009, she was named the Post Gazetter’s performer of the year. Well deserved too, considering her outstanding body of work. Now, to be honest, I had no idea that You Say Tomato was a play – I guess I’m so used to musicals that I just figured. So there was no singing, but I wasn’t disappointed. Robin is a powerhouse performer and a pure joy to watch. She has wonderful facial expressions, body language, and tone. Her voice easily conveys all the necessary emotions. And can I say, for the record, Ms. Abramson has some serious guns on her! She wore a sleeveless pattern dress that showed off arms to rival Michelle Obama’s. Good job, Robin! Keep doing what you’re doing. 🙂
Gregory Johnstone was her perfect match in this show. It would be impossible to say who got the biggest laughs, but Greg certainly went big with his performance. He did impressions that had the audience doubled over, and slapstick that had us applauding for days. Well, not really…but a long time! You get what I’m sayin’! And the two just looked good together. They seemed like a great couple. Their chemistry was so fun to watch and seemed so natural; there were times that I actually forgot the show was scripted and it wasn’t just some incredibly awesome hour of improve. And while Greg’s outfit didn’t give him a chance to show off his arms, he did manage to show off his underwear. Whut-whut.
The show is billed as a new comedy about love and marriage and it definitely nails the comedy part but also, pleasantly surprising, the show rings incredibly true. I interviewed Jeff a bit before the premiere and he had some great insights into his character and the play. He mentioned that you recognize parts of yourself, and yes, you certainly will!
All in all, You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up is an enjoyable way to spend a Friday or Saturday evening. The humor does center a lot on sex, and there are some risque lines. Definitely not for young kids. But it’s great first date material – tons of material to break the ice and talk about afterwards. Actually, it’s great any date material. After all, what date wouldn’t be wonderful when it’s filled with that much laughter?
You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up! Runs now through May 5. For tickets, go here.